By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — In the early 1940s, Peterson Air Force Base, or as it was known back then, Colorado Springs Army Air Base, was little more than a dusty runway with a few small white buildings that provided a place to train bombers during World War II. After the war, the base closed until the start of the Cold War in the 1950s.
From this point forward, Peterson Air Force Base saw many transitions, but none more significant than the birth of the 21st Space Wing in 1992. This week marks the 21st anniversary for the 21st Space Wing. As we celebrate how far we’ve come, it’s important to remember how the wing began.
Retired Brig. Gen. Ronald Gray, the first commander of the 21st Space Wing, recently explained that the creation of the 21st Space Wing was a much needed improvement from the 1st Space and 3rd Space Support Wings that previously occupied Peterson AFB.
“I guess you had to be there previously to get a real understanding of how it was a significant change,” Gray said.
Gray, who was the director of operations at Air Force Space Command during this time, said this change was a direct result of newly appointed Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Merrill McPeak.
“(McPeak) had some very strong views on the Air Force’s organization and where the problems were and what could be done to solve some of those problems,” said Gray. “He came up with a concept called the ‘objective wing,’ meaning that the organizational structure, roles and missions would be the objective for all Air Force wings to adhere to.”
The objective wing concept, said Gray, eliminated staff activities overseeing operations and maintenance creating group commanders instead. Gray added that this new structure created a clearly defined line of responsibility from the CSAF to the lowest ranking airman.
Along with the 1st Space Wing and 3rd Space Support Wing at Peterson AFB, there was also the 2nd Space Wing at Schriever AFB. Many of the issues faced by Peterson and Schriever AFBs as well as the GSUs is the difficulty in working with another wing to garner critical support.
Prior to Gray’s assignment at AFSPC, Gray was the commander of the 1st Space Wing. One of his many frustrations at that time was the funding decisions made by the support wing that affected mission organizations.
“We were buying sod at Peterson AFB while mission organizations were starving,” said Gray. “We were always $10 short on funds and $20 short on people.”
Gray said all of that changed on May 1, 1992, however, when they stood up the 21st Space Wing.
“It was a new start in many ways: organizationally, functionally, mission-wise, as well as people, which was a breath of fresh air,” said Gray. “It gave them a purpose, I think, that they did not have before. They couldn’t point to any mission other than support.”
Stepping into the role of commander of the 21st Space Wing, Gray made a promise to visit every office on base. Although it took him three months, Gray fulfilled that promise.
“I walked into every shop on Peterson AFB and I emphasized to them, the purpose of the 21st Space Wing is missile warning and space surveillance and don’t you forget it,” said Gray. “I figured I could get everyone moving in the same direction at the same time doing the same mission, and I think it worked.”
Since then, the Wing has grown to be the fourth largest wing in the Air Force, spread out over 16 states, eight countries and 13 time zones. It supports six installations across 34 locations and employs about 4,300 military, civilians and contractors. These Airmen operate and sustain global missile warning and space control capabilities and installations to dominate the high ground for America and its allies.