By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. — Strolling through buildings and tunnels 2,000 feet deep in the granite center of Cheyenne Mountain, retired Air Force Col. Edward Smith, took in the scenes and summed it up simply.
“Not much has changed,” he said. As the fourth commander of the legendary Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, Smith should know.
He recently toured the Mountain honoring 50 years since it became operational. Smith was first stationed at the Mountain in 1982-84, as the first commander of the 1010th Civil Engineering Squadron for the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Later, after a stint as assistant chief of staff for North American Aerospace Defense Command and Air Force Space Command, he returned to CMAFS as commander in 1987 until he retired in 1991.
“It was the most important job I ever had in my career,” Smith said.
He began his Air Force career in 1967, much of it spanning the Cold War era. He said CMAFS is the eyes and ears of the free world, so there is pressure to make certain everything is operating around the clock, 365 days a year.
During Smith’s first assignment at the facility there was an intense focus on tightening up the physical plant and industrial portion of the site, he said.
“A lot of people worked really hard to make this place shine. People were very committed to the mission,” he said.
That hard work continued as Smith left the Mountain and served at NORAD. When he returned as commander, efforts were concentrated on modernizing and developing what was essentially just a command center, said Smith.
“The most important thing I did as commander, we basically renovated the whole complex,” Smith said. “That was the real challenge for me.”
A major part of that work was bringing commercial power into the facility. The move ultimately cut operating costs for CMAFS. During his guided tour, Smith was most interested in seeing how the work begun under his watch has progressed.
Commanding such a monumental facility meant that, even in the midst of creating America’s Fortress, there were curious folks who came calling. The many distinguished visitors Smith hosted while in command included government and military officials, foreign dignitaries, celebrities and civic groups.
Smith recalled Retired Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Moiseyev, paying a visit, which was quite a security challenge, he said. And another time when the entire upper parking lot had to be cleared so British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s helicopter could land for her visit. Other political figures like then-Vice President George H.W. Bush visited, as did Princess Anne of Great Britain.
“For me, those are the great memories,” he said.
Among celebrities Smith named Olivia Newton John and Glen Campbell as two who stood out. But it was the visit from a baseball player for his beloved New York Giants that rose above the other celebrities. A civic group came to visit and among them was outfielder Bobby Thompson, known for hitting the epic home run dubbed “Shot heard round the world” to clinch the National League pennant in 1951.
“I was a big Giants fan. With those civic groups you just never knew who you were going to get,” he said.
So much of what makes up CMAFS today is similar to what was there more than 25 years ago when Smith commanded the complex. On the tour he frequently said, “Yeah, that looks familiar,” but that doesn’t mean the impact of commanding one of the most critical pieces of national defense has faded.
“It was a privilege to work with the senior officers and draw from their wisdom,” Smith said. “As a CE officer you don’t feel as close to the mission sometimes, but I did here. And it was also one of the most pressure packed jobs I ever had.”