By Col. Sam Johnson | 21st Space Wing Commander
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — It doesn’t seem fair that I’m the one writing this. On May 12th our wing, and the Air Force at large, lost a great leader, mentor, and friend. Colonel Falzarano’s impeccable service as your commander over the last year speaks for itself, and if he were here I have little doubt that his words would fill us all with the closure we need: for not only these trying times during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but for the decommissioning of the 21st Space Wing, and for the immense loss we continue to feel at the mention of his name. With that said, as Melissa and I begin our transition out of the Air Force, allow me one final chance to offer a few thoughts of my own, and to thank you all again for your never ending excellence and commitment to the mission.
When I stepped into the role of vice commander back in June 2018, I had no idea the adventure that lay ahead. Our biggest concerns were still ISIS, tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the ever present threat of war looming in Iran. The name Space Force wasn’t yet set in stone. Simply put, the world we’re currently executing the mission in feels lightyears removed.
But that’s exactly the point. Despite the changes, the countless ups and downs over the years and the numerous heartaches, the men and women of this great wing never once stopped executing the mission. Over the years, we’ve seen new world powers emerge and old world powers solidify their standing. Administratively, we’ve witnessed Air Force Space Command transform into the U.S. Space Force, and the torrent of reorganizations that accompanied such an undertaking. It’s true there’s been some inevitable confusion and frustration. Yet time and again, despite it all, I have been stunned by the innovation, resiliency, and sheer talent displayed by each and every one of you. And now we stand on the cusp of another great adventure.
While we bid farewell to the 21st Space Wing in one breath, with the other we welcome a change on a scale the likes of which the U.S. military has rarely seen. When the creation of the U.S. Space Force was announced, Vice President Mike Pence said, “the Space Force will not be built from scratch because the men and the women who run and protect our nation’s space programs today are already the best in the world.” He was referring to you. As with any change there have been some growing pains, but what we are gaining in return is so great, so momentous, that I’m humbled to have been your commander for even a small part of it. Air and space professionals. What a ring that has.
We haven’t come this far as individuals; we’ve done it as a team. From Thule Air Base in Greenland, where 24/7 missile warning and space situational awareness is accomplished alongside life-changing international scientific research at the top of the world—to the revolutionary deep space object tracking mission undertaken by the GEODSS system at Diego Garcia—the task of ensuring space dominance has always been a team effort.
That mentality has proved invaluable now more than ever. When COVID-19 struck, our medical professionals were ready to respond. On March 20th the 21st MDG established point of testing for both Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB and worked tirelessly to provide care and support for over 12,000 personnel. The pandemic couldn’t hamper our folks’ innovation, as made evident by members of the 21st CES, when they saw an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade and created a virtual readiness challenge that kept emergency management skills razor sharp. Across the board, without fail, you all have risen to every challenge with fire and tenacity.
It is fire and tenacity that continue to pull us through our grief. We’re stronger together, and that’s equally true in mourning. The love and support that I witnessed firsthand in the wake of Colonel Falzarano’s passing was unlike any I’d ever seen. This community came together in the most trying of times to honor and remember an unparalleled leader. But then we did exactly what our leader would have expected from us: we allowed our natural grief the room it needed, we consoled one another, and then we began the work to patch it up. We became what he pushed us to be—built to last.
As we wrap up our time here at Peterson, Melissa and I want to thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do for our nation. This is an incredible time to be serving, especially here at the epicenter of our country’s newest military branch. It has been an honor accompanying you all on this journey.
We also want to say thank you to all of our mission partners in Team Pete and to all of our friends and partners throughout Colorado Springs. We have been lucky to call this community our home and we are eternally grateful for the love and support you’ve all shown over the years.
Serving as both your vice wing commander and as your wing commander has been the most rewarding and humbling experience of my career and the highlight of our time in the Air Force. We couldn’t be more excited for Col. James Smith and his spouse Kristy as they embark on this truly historic new journey. We wish them the very best of luck. Thank you again Knights, for everything you’ve done and will continue to do. Godspeed.