Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Peterson Space Observer

Mountain, man legacies intertwined

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden)
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. — Earl Clelland, 721st Civil Engineer Squadron power systems mechanic, leads a tour through the industrial area of Cheyenne Mountain. CMAFS is home to the 721st Mission Support Group, which operates, maintains, secures, sustains, mobilizes, tests, and controls the worldwide warning and surveillance system for North America.

By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden

21st Space Wing Public Affairs

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE Colo. — Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station — referred to simply as “the Mountain” by many — has been home to some of America’s most unique and highly classified missions during its 47-year existence. While most may consider Cheyenne Mountain a place of ultimate secrecy, for Earl Clelland, 721st Civil Engineer Squadron power systems mechanic, it has been a home away from home for nearly 30 years.

Born in Bermuda and raised in Detroit, Clelland joined the Air Force at the age of 20 having grown tired of the Cadillac assembly line.

His first of many assignments at Cheyenne Mountain was with the civil engineer squadron in the Mountain’s power plant, responsible for pumping the Mountain’s life blood through its granite veins.

Clelland, the self-described, ‘Encyclopedia of the Mountain,’ explained it was his goal to learn as much as he could about this exciting new world.

“When I first got here I wanted to learn the Mountain, I wanted to learn (about) my job and the new power plant that was still being built,” said Clelland. “So I learned the books long before I needed to because I was intrigued and fascinated by being able to start up that new power plant.”

The new power plant, built beneath 2,000 feet of Colorado granite, replaced the original that burned down in May of 1976 said Clelland.

Clelland explained the cause of the fire was from oil leaking from a ruptured pipe onto an exhaust manifold.

“We never lost the mission — the power plant back then ran full diesel — so we transferred to our one commercial power source we had,” said Clelland. “We had no (uninterrupted power supply) back then, so we were running on commercial power from May of ‘76 to August of ‘76.”

Clelland, along with the rest of his team, spent the summer of 1976 working tirelessly to rebuild the new power plant while ensuring the mission never faltered.

“That was very scary, coming to work every day,” said Clelland. “We put on our coveralls like we were busy getting dirty. Most of the people in the mountain didn’t realize we were running on an alternate power source.”

Construction on the new plant began immediately following the destruction of the old plant and was completed in only three month’s time, six months ahead of schedule.

It was this drive to work diligently that seemed to be what Clelland loved the most about being at the Mountain.

“I like all of the people I work with and how everybody is cohesive with each other,” said Clelland. “Being able to maintain (the Mountain), and keep it running along with the working relationship with people here is like a big family.”

With the close bonds and near flawless mission execution of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station team, Clelland, now on his fifth assignment at the Mountain, said that he has finally found the perfect job and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“The best thing about working here is the sense of satisfaction, each day getting something done and knowing that you’re doing a good thing for your country,” said Clelland. “Everybody works together — civil service, military, contractors — we’re all here for one purpose, to keep the mission going for Cheyenne Mountain.”

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