First Year in Command

  • Published
  • By Col. Douglas A. Schiess
  • 21st Space Wing
In June 2015, I had the privilege of taking command of the Air Force's most geographically separated wing, the 21st Space Wing. From day one, Airmen, civilians, and contractors of the 21st SW continued to drive excellence and innovation in the Air Force’s premier space superiority mission. I’m humbled at the opportunity to lead and serve these Airmen on a daily basis.

Every day, 21st SW men and women answer their nation’s call and put service before self to get the job done. From the defenders guarding the installation, to the medics providing optimal health to the military community, the loggies moving joint service cargo downrange in support of worldwide deployments, the space operators executing space superiority missions, and every other career field in the wing, we all play a pivotal role in executing global capabilities to defend the homeland and secure space for our nation and allies. More importantly, we all contribute to the U.S. Air Force mission to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.

Community Partnerships

Knights of the 21st SW take pride in being good neighbors not only in Colorado Springs, but also in various worldwide locations across the globe. In January 2016, the 821st Air Base Group, Thule Air Base, Greenland participated in the annual Operation Julemand festivities, in the neighboring town of Qaanaag. Installation personnel and mission partners have been providing holiday gifts to local children since 1959, and it has expanded over the years to include playground equipment and educational materials purchased through fundraisers held at Thule and throughout the wing. Even recently, Cavalier Air Force Station, North Dakota, held an open house to show appreciation to the local community and showcase their unique space mission.

In September 2015, the Pikes Peak Community Partnership Program was formally signed to solidify efforts between Pikes Peak area military installations and several community partners vital to the installation. This signing provided the framework for a collaborative environment between the local governments, civic leaders, and military installations that identify opportunities where parties can work toward supporting common mission requirements.

In March 2016, the 21st SW strengthened its community relationship by gaining Air Staff approval to bulk purchase de-icing chemicals in partnership with El Paso County. Thanks to one of many community partnership initiatives, all Front Range Air Force installations can now utilize the El Paso County contract to purchase chemicals for use on base roadways to control or remove snow and ice at an estimated savings of more than $60,000 over a five-year period. Additional ongoing Pikes Peak Community partnership initiatives include centralized transition support services, expanded medical currency/training programs, joint recreational services, and experiential learning.

On June 2, this partnership played a pivotal role when Peterson Air Force Base personnel, along with military and civilian community partners, provided emergency response to the crash of an Air Force Thunderbird F-16C Fighting Falcon. Thanks to community programs like the Colorado Springs Emergency Management Collaborative and our Regional Law Enforcement monthly meetings, first responders from Peterson, Security-Widefield, Colorado Springs, Fort Carson and El Paso County responded to the incident within minutes of the crash. The response, medical evaluation of the pilot, securing of the site, safing of the aircraft, and transportation of the aircraft were a complete team effort by community partners.

Global Wing

The 21st Operations Group continues to be America’s space superiority group. As the Air Force’s third largest operations group and Air Force Space Command’s most weapon-system diverse group, the 21st OG executes real-time space control, space surveillance, missile warning, missile defense, airfield and weather operations, and worldwide intelligence support for combatant commands across the globe. Since June 2015, our tactical units have codified better mission operation models, enhanced advanced operational training opportunities, and shown true innovation in their quest to secure the space domain in an ever-changing strategic environment.

During this timeframe, the 21st OG benefited from continuous improvements to our already high levels of operations discipline and rigor across all mission sets. We bettered operations through the employment of comprehensive standardization and evaluation, weapons and tactics and unit and wing exercise programs. Notably, we made these strides while steadily increasing our operational footprint by bringing on new units and missions. A major milestone was finalizing the movement of ground-based radar Initial Qualification Training from Air Education and Training Command and are now conducting in-house IQT at our radar sites at Cavalier AFS, Cape Cod AFS, Massachusetts and Eglin AFB, Florida. Additionally, we stood up an independent detachment focused solely on Upgraded Early Warning Radar training at Beale AFB, California which is now poised to train all Ballistic Early Warning System and Phased Array Warning System operators as most of our missile warning units complete the transition to UEWR operations over the next two years. We also successfully tackled AFSPC/CC’s top priority by diligently refocusing our commitment to advanced training and developed a comprehensive and executable Space Mission Force model for the space control mission. We have retooled the space control mission area from redefining quality and enhancing opportunities for threat-based advanced training, integrating with other warfighting domains, boosting space control intel capabilities, and building a more capable deployable force across two squadrons. We will also roll out a prototype ground-based radar SMF construct this fall, a full year ahead of schedule.

Our operators continued to seek out and capitalize on opportunities to integrate their skill sets with community, joint and allied partners in exercises like Condor Crest, Weapon School Advanced Integration, Red Flag, Global Thunder and Global Lightning. We also instituted a grass-roots initiative called the “Year of the Space Tactician” where every operator across the group was charged to challenge conventional thinking and find ways to increase operational capability of their weapon systems. We saw tangible benefits of this initiative during real-world operations and exercises and were able to identify lessons learned while improving tactics, techniques and procedures across all mission areas to meet the palpable challenges of a contested, degraded, and operationally limited space domain. Further, our YOST initiatives are not only limited to operations, as we are focused on professionally developing space tacticians. We are proud to partner with Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs and in September will send the first of our best space tacticians to an internship program that further hones their technical and tactical skills. We also partnered with the U.S. Air Force Academy to model better ways to combat weather limitations of our advanced space telescopes, and are sharpening the skills of America’s next generation officers.

Not only have we excelled on the home front, but we continue to be bring our operational capability to bear in our nation’s current expeditionary fight. Over the past year, we’ve deployed several wing members in support of U.S. Central Command operations where we decisively project America’s space superiority.

Also, in April the 21st SW celebrated 50 years of operations at Cheyenne Mountain AFS. From the Cold War, to 9-11, and the on-going war on terrorism, CMAFS has been providing command and control for the DOD since 1966. Even though, the roles and responsibilities may have changed for America’s Fortress over the years, its overall strategic importance remains the same today as the backbone of our missile warning operations across the globe.

Our wing is posturing for new operational missions starting this summer. This July we will activated the 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, California with a detachment at Dahlgren, Virginia to enhance execution and tasking of our space surveillance units and manage space situational awareness for AFSPC and our allies. In August, we will tear down the defunct Cold War BMEWS radar fans at Clear AFS, Alaska and make way for America’s Advanced Long Range Discrimination Radar alongside Clear’s new and improved UEWR system. Leveraging our experience with the Royal Air Force and our RAF Fylingdales, United Kingdom radar, in July, we will embed our first liaison officer with the Royal Australian Air Force as we bring AFSPC’s relocated C-Band radar into the space surveillance network with Australian space operators at the helm.

This global mission couldn’t be possible without the synchronization and support of our professional mission support teams, wing staff agencies, and medical personnel to ensure we can execute these global capabilities 24/7, 365 days a year.


It was a year of change for Team Peterson leadership. In May, we welcomed Gen. Lori J. Robinson, commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command to the Peterson AFB family as we said farewell to U.S. Navy Adm. Bill Gortney. The 21st SW looks forward to working with Gen. Robinson and we’ll continue to support the NORAD/USNORTHCOM mission in defending North America.

We also said farewell to Col. Rich Burchfield, 21st SW Senior Individual Mobilization Augmentee, as he retired in June after nearly 30 years of service between his time on active duty and in the Reserves. Col Burchfield was a major part of the wing leadership team and a pillar in the local Front Range community and will be missed. From everyone in the 21st SW, we wish him and his family all the best as they start their next chapter in life. He’s staying in the Colorado Springs community so make sure to congratulate him when you see him around installation.

Thank You

Finally, I would like to personally say ‘Thanks’ to the Knights of the 21st SW for making my first year on the job outstanding. The best part of my job is getting to know all the men and women who make the 21st SW mission the best in the Air Force. I’ve personally had the opportunity to visit several of our geographically separated units and see firsthand the professionalism and expertise our Airmen bring to the fight. Because of your commitment of delivering unrivaled space superiority to our nation and its allies, the 21st SW was named AFSPC’s best overall operational wing and received the 2015 General Thomas S. Moorman, Jr. Award in March 2016. This award is truly a testament of all Knights working together across the globe getting the space mission job done. Thank you for taking my call arms of “Let’s Do This” and commander’s strategic plan personally and for making this the best job anyone could ask for. Keep up the great work Knights and I look forward to my next year as your commander.