By Scott Prater
When Lt. Col. Michael A. Wulfestieg left Schriever Air Force Base during the spring of 2003, he had a pretty good idea that one day he’d be back. He even kept the home he purchased here, imagining that one day his family might simply move back in.
Well, four years and one month later, they did exactly that.
Colonel Wulfestieg may look like a fresh face to folks here at Schriever, but Schriever feels like home to the 50th Space Wing’s new Chief of Safety.
At age 38, Colonel Wulfestieg often hears comments from people who say he looks awfully young for a lieutenant colonel. But, his youthful appearance hides a lengthy and varied military career, which has guided him through five states and nine duty stations.
He holds two Master’s degrees, one in Aeronautical Science, the other in Strategic Intelligence, is the son of a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and the grandson of a World War II era Army officer.
Born in Denver, Colonel Wulfestieg can call himself a Colorado native, but he grew up in Tacoma, Wash. where he swam and played water polo for his high school team. He chose Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. for his undergraduate work because his grandparents and great-grandfather attended the school and it fielded both swim and water polo teams.
Following completion of the Reserve Officer Training program at Pomona, he underwent missile training at Vandenberg Air Force Base. His first assignment took him to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where he eventually became a senior instructor for missile combat crews and an emergency war order plans officer.
His introduction to satellites, and Schriever, came during 1999.
Starting as a payload systems operator, he grew to become Chief, Navigation Tactics and Payload Analysis Branch for the 2nd Space Operations Squadron. Later he worked as the executive officer for then 50th Space Wing Commander Col. Larry D. James
From there he moved eight miles West to Peterson Air Force Base and Space Command Headquarters where he was the MAJCOM lead for GPS operations and later the executive officer to the Director of Air and Space Operations at Air Force Space Command.
“I’ve had quite a bit exposure to senior leaders from squadron commanders up to headquarters commanders and really got a chance to see how they do things,” he said. “I’ve been able to pick and choose things from individuals and put them together to fit my personality and administrative style.”
His depth of experience broadened when he accepted an assignment at the Pentagon.
There he learned how the Air Force budget process works as he advocated for the GPS system, among other programs, as it competed for funds along with all of the other Air Force budget needs, such as aircraft, people and facilities.
Following a stint at the National Defense Intelligence College he traveled back to Vandenberg where he was an operations officer for the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron.
“I was looking forward to that launch assignment because I have a very strong interest in rockets,” he said. “ASTS is a very busy launch squadron and that particular squadron is involved in missile defense interceptor launches. They also launch old ICBMS as either targets or for launching satellites, so where I started in missiles with the minuteman, I was back to launching the minuteman that was now carrying satellites.”
Upon earning his promotion to Lt. Colonel, Wulfestieg changed course yet again, and this time it meant a trip back to Colorado and the 50th Space Wing.
“Safety is different than anything I’ve done before,” he said. “But, the Air Force likes to take operators and make them Chiefs of Safety. They do it on the flying side and they do it on the space side because, as a chief of safety, you have to understand the systems that the folks (in the wing) are dealing with. So for me to step in here as the chief of safety, I’m very familiar with satellite operations, one of the primary missions of the base, and I understand what they’re doing in the operations squadrons. My job as the Chief of Safety is to work for the wing commander, and make his base as safe as possible.”
As the 50th Space Wing’s new Chief of Safety, Colonel Wulfestieg holds very concrete ideas about the subject and about how he expects to function in his role.
“We want to minimize mishaps that cause either equipment or people to be unavailable for work,” he said. “So my goal is to make sure people have the right training, equipment and the right procedures to minimize the mishaps and maximize our mission capability.”
His safety philosophy revolves around individual responsibility.
“Safety is on the individual, on the job, off the job, military, civilian and contractor,” he said. “It has to be part of your day-to-day decision making process. We can come up with campaigns and slogans and programs to try and get people to think certain ways, but what we’re really trying to do is get people to take a few seconds before they take an action and think about it. Think about what could go wrong and what they would do if something went wrong, so they can minimize the impact of that situation. Hopefully, we end up with fewer people getting hurt and fewer things getting broken and that just means we’ve got more people available to work the mission.”