Metro mayors get rare tour of Buckley AFB
By Jan Wondra
The sight is ubiquitous as one drives north on E-470 across Aurora; gigantic golf balls poised as if ready for a pop art exhibit on the eastern edges of the metro area. While most citizens know there’s an Air Force base there, few are privy to what on earth is inside those golf balls. Ten mayors of the south metro area were recently given rare access at Buckley Air Force Base for a briefing on the 460th Space Wing base operations, and the economic impact and investments related to the facility.
The briefing was conducted by Col. Dan Dant, 460th Space Wing Commander, and Cols. Robert Uemura and DeAnna Burt; Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan was absent because of an illness. The briefing included an overview of base operations, and a tour of the facility where the mayors were able to watch four F-16 fighters take off at close range. At a working lunch, the group discussed what the military calls “P4 opportunities,” shorthand for the public-to-public and public-to-private partnership opportunities represented by its relatively new Air Force Community Partnership Initiative.
Buckley AFB is officially an Air Force Space Command base that serves active duty, National Guard, Reserve and retired personnel throughout the Front Range community. Buckley’s team of space professionals operates the Defense Support Program, and the Space-Based Infrared System Highly Elliptical Orbit satellites, which provide continuous global surveillance, tracking and targeting. The base defends America through its air operations, space-based missile warning capabilities, space surveillance operations, space communications operations and support functions.
Most people, upon hearing that a facility is an Air Force base, may think everything that goes on there is by and for military activities. Not necessarily true, says John Spann, chief of Public Affairs at Buckley AFB. The base has 82 tenant partners, which provide services for the base, for the U.S. military and out into the community, ranging from the AF Weather Service to the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers.
“We had multiple visits by the president in the past few years,” said Spann. “One of them, after the Aurora movie theater shooting, was with a few hours notice. No other facility could operate so securely, so quickly.”
Buckley AFB is a specialized national training site for military dogs, whose trainers deploy to Afghanistan with the dogs. It is home to the Air Reserve Personnel Center, which is responsible for personnel and administrative support to more than 970,000 Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, the coordination point for manning national emergencies. That level of training benefits the community. The base has a mutual-aid agreement with regional fire departments and police units.
“Not only do we provide support for the University Health Sciences hospital, covering both the Fitzsimmons and Anschutz campuses, but in emergencies, we are back-up responders and support units to your local fire and rescue and police,” Spann said.
Community partnerships will be an increasing focus of Buckley AFB leadership.
“Our initiative is intended to identify ways we can work together to be cost efficient, to be responsive to the community,” said Spann. “We are a regional economic force. For the past nine years Buckley AFB has pumped, on average, a billion dollars into the local economy each year.”
It was an eye-opening experience for the mayors; a free-flowing opportunity to ask questions and gain understanding of the resources available to their communities. And what about those giant golf balls? They’re called Radomes, and they protect critical equipment for the United States global missile warning system.
“It’s telecommunications equipment…giant radar disks,” said Mayor Rakowsky. “The Radomes protect the equipment from the elements. It’s quite dramatic to walk inside and look a hundred feet up to see this.”