By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — When President Barack Obama flew to Peterson Air Force Base this year, it was no secret when Air Force One was on the runway. However, many people don’t realize distinguished visitors come to Peterson every day, and it takes the coordination of multiple base agencies to make for a smooth visit.
According to Staff Sgt. Korey Papa, base operations NCO in charge of airfield management, Peterson is second only to Andrews Air Force Base for the number of DV arrivals. In any given month, there may be between 80 and 100 distinguished visitor arrivals at the airfield.
Bringing a DV onto the airfield first requires the coordination of base ops and the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. “The city of Colorado Springs owns the runway, taxi ways and has the (Federal Aviation Association) air traffic controllers. We control the Peterson ramp,” Papa said.
The most common DV arrivals are one to four-star generals. Before they arrive on base, base ops receives a Prior Permission Required form that lists who is coming, when they are coming and what kind of service they will need.
The 21st Security Forces Squadron also works quietly behind the scenes to ensure the safety of DVs as they arrive on base. According to Timothy Omdal, 21st SFS deputy director, the 21st SFS coordinates activities to make sure that once a DV leaves the airfield, they can move throughout the base without getting lost or being impeded by traffic, and if the DV is traveling off the installation, they make sure the DV can get through the gate without being delayed.
Security forces also coordinates with the visitor control center at the west gate for DVs who are driving onto base. Staff Sgt. Amanda Lucero, VCC pass and registration clerk, said, “We in-process people who are coming to visit, from foreign visitors to people who work and live on base.”
DVs who arrive at Peterson are met by a member of the 21st SFS to ensure quick passage to their final destination. “A support staff member goes to the gate to make sure there’s expedited entry,” Omdal said.
When a DV needs a vehicle or an escort, the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron comes into the mix. Timothy Kleine, 21st LRS logistic manager, said they answer requests for rental cars, U-Drive-Its, buses and other supplies or equipment.
The central point for all the coordination is the 21st SW Protocol office. According to Steven Daniels, 21st SW Protocol office, their job is to deconflict schedules. “We review and make sure the timing of everything is smooth and unrestricted,” he said.
When so many agencies get involved, people start to rely on assumptions, Daniels said, which is why it’s so important to have a central agency tracking all of the timing and events. “It’s critical, if any of those pieces fall off it could leave a lasting impression,” he said.
This year has been busy with presidential visits — President Obama has visited Colorado Springs three times this summer.
“When the president comes, usually three to five days prior we get some precoordination with the (Air Force) Office of Special Investigations and Secret Service,” Omdal said.
When the advanced teams start arriving on base from Washington, D.C., they take control of arrangements, and it’s up to base agencies to start meeting requests.
“When the president comes, we work directly with Air Force One,” Papa said. “Secret Service and the Air Force One team tell us where the plane is going to park. We handle whatever they need; we’re at their beck and call for about a week.”
Each visit comes with a different set of requests. Before the most recent visit, Secret Service requested buses to block the line of sight from the airplane to the street. “I didn’t have enough buses, so we ended up using snow plows to make that happen,” Kleine said. “You’ve really got to be creative and look at everything you have and try to meet the need.”
A POTUS arrival also means additional services from 21st SFS, Omdal said. “We develop a plan with security forces and Secret Service of the route and where all the traffic control points need to be placed.”
A presidential visit is one of the only times security forces will completely block traffic to a route.
“We don’t discourage people from being on the sidewalk to wave, but we always have TCPs to ensure there are choke points and to not allow any unauthorized vehicle to get inside or delay the convoy,” Omdal said.
During a large event, such as a POTUS visit, the VCC is the meeting point for media. “(Public affairs) emails us a list ahead of time so we know who is going to be here. We sign the badges out and they collect them,” Lucero said. “Media can’t come on unless they have the media badge. Once they have the badge, public affairs (representatives) escort them around.”
The consensus among the agencies is that no two DV visits are the same, and they all require different kinds of support, and most of the time it goes unnoticed because the working parts work together so well.
“I don’t think people realize the magnitude or the number of distinguish visitors that we have at Peterson,” Omdal said.