Commentary by Randy Saunders
The history of Schriever Air Force Base began barely 20 years after the United States orbited its first satellite.
In September 1979, Air Force officials approved plans for the development of an installation to provide a back-up control node in support of existing and planned satellite constellations, and to house an operations support center for NASA’s space shuttle. These plans called for a merger of all Air Force space operations at a consolidated space operations center and a shuttle operations center.
Following negotiations with the Colorado state department, the department granted the federal government deed to approximately 640 acres of land. Contractors broke ground May 17, 1983, on what would become Falcon Air Force Station, named for the nearby unincorporated town north of the installation. For more than two years, contractors worked to complete sufficient facilities to open the base, including headquarters and operations buildings, support facilities, and infrastructure.
The 2nd Space Wing was activated in a ceremony July 8, 1985, at Falcon Air Force Station, although the installation was not complete enough to allow the new wing to occupy the facilities. A ribbon cutting ceremony Sept. 26, 1985 symbolized its activation. Construction costs totaled $91,450,000, less than two-thirds the amount appropriated.
During the next decades, Falcon AFS continued growing in order to meet mission requirements, necessitating increases in land area for operations, support, and administrative facilities, and a buffer zone for security.
Leaps in space-related technologies added importance to Falcon’s consolidated space operations and brought new missions and organizations to the installation. Depicting this growth, Air Force Space Command renamed the installation Falcon Air Force Base June 13, 1988.
In September 1990, the Joint National Test Facility, (later renamed Joint National Integration Center) opened at Falcon, and a few years later, AFSPC activated the Space Warfare Center (later renamed Space Innovation Development Center) here. These new organizations necessitated additions to the base’s infrastructure.
Changing strategic priorities in the early 1990s led to a reduction of United States military organizations and personnel in Europe. To maintain the history of distinguished units, the Air Force chose to inactivate Falcon AFS’s 2nd Space Wing and activate the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing Jan 30, 1992, renamed 50th Space Wing, to assume responsibility for the satellite control and network operations missions here. Soon after the wing took operational control of the Air Force Satellite Control Network in October 1987, Falcon AFS was re-designated Falcon Air Force Base by June 13, 1988.
In November 1993, the Air Staff proposed a land exchange with Colorado to obtain the desired properties. By February 1996, negotiations on land transfers with the state, combined with purchases of privately owned parcels, resulted in the acquisition of nearly 4,000 acres. This provided the base room to expand and provided an adequate buffer against encroachment.
As the new millennium neared, the installation continued to grow. In 1997, AFSPC activated the Space Battlelab at Falcon AFB to develop new and innovative ideas for applying space technology to combat forces. In 1998, the Air Force renamed Falcon AFB in honor of General Bernard A. Schriever, the man known as the Father of the Air Force Space and Missile Program.
The wing held a renaming ceremony on June 5, 1998, in honor of General Schriever and marked the first instance of an Air Force installation named in honor of a living person. Also, in 1998, construction began on new facilities to house missions and support operations being transferred from Onizuka Air Force Station, as a result of the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission initiatives passed into law by Congress.
By mid-way through the first decade of the 21st century, Schriever AFB hosted nearly 70 major and minor facilities and employed more than 6,200 people. The base’s continuing growth and importance prompted wing and command officials to begin preliminary planning to bring several hundred housing units and associated community support activities to the base. Base officials and contractor representatives broke ground May 16, 2008, on 242 enlisted and officer housing units at Schriever AFB. Construction was completed by late summer 2010. Today, 223 families call Schriever AFB home.
Schriever AFB has grown from humble beginnings as a “commuter base” to a full installation hosting many important missions and units from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force, as well as joint organizations. The future looks bright for this base as, 25 years later, conditions that made this site ideal for a new installation still exist.
Editor’s note: Schriever will celebrate its 25th anniversary in conjunction with the Air Force’s 63rd anniversary at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Satellite Dish dining facility. Col. Wayne Monteith, 50th Space Wing commander, will speak prior to cutting the Air Force and Schriever anniversary cakes. The commander will be accompanied by Chief Master Sgt. Randy LaCombe, 50th SW command chief, and representatives from the base’s civilian workforce, officer corps, and enlisted force.