Common defense leads to unique partnership

  • Published
  • By Dave Smith
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
On the grounds of Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, there is a building housing one of the most unique military commands in the world. The North American Aerospace Defense Command is a well-known entity, associated with more than a few classified mysteries. However, one thing many people do not know is unclassified.

NORAD is the only bi-national command in the world, said Col. Patrick Carpentier, Royal Canadian Air Force, NORAD and United States Northern Command deputy director of Requirements, Analysis and Resources (J8) and Chief of Staff for Canadian personnel.

“It’s really incredible,” he said. “Both countries work with other countries bi-laterally, but NORAD is under one chain of command and mission for the protection of North America. It’s pretty special, really. It doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

To get an idea about the bi-national relationship, the Commander of NORAD reports to both the President of the United States through the Secretary of Defense, and to the Prime Minister of Canada, through the Chief of the Defence Staff and Minister of National Defence.

To support such a command requires staffing from both Canada and the United States. For Canada’s part, there are about 350 Canadian military, civilians and their family members located in Colorado Springs for the purpose of supporting NORAD’s mission to conduct aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in defense of North America.

The integration of U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces has a long history. During World War II soldiers from both nations joined together in the Aleutian Islands Campaign to eject Japanese occupiers from Alaska.

“In times of need we come together,” Carpentier said.

An assignment to NORAD is a positive thing, he said. In reality he said the U.S. and Canada have more things in common than they do differences.

“Think about if you moved from Alaska to Colorado, or New York to California,” Carpentier said. “There would be some differences and I would equate moving from Canada to the U.S. about the same. We do things a little different, but the difference is not that much.”

He is in position to make such comparisons. Carpentier spent 13 years, and counting, in the U.S. as part of NORAD. This is his third time posted in Colorado Springs. The typical assignment for Canadians with duties at NORAD is three or four years, depending upon position. Most of the Canadian contingency at Peterson work at NORAD headquarters, but some of them have jobs working with Air Force Space Command.

“Canada is represented on the joint staffs of all the headquarters,” said Carpentier. The postings are not part of an officer exchange, either. He said postings in the U.S. are part of a bi-national chain of command.
Being stationed in Colorado Springs is a popular, and well liked, assignment. In fact, Carpentier said many Canadians assigned here end up retiring in the area. There is a large expatriate community here, including a wing of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association, made up of people who decided to make Colorado their home.

“We’re all happy to be here,” he said.

Deborah Bach, program coordinator for (Canadian) Military Family Services in Colorado Springs, concurs with Carpentier’s assumption. She said it is fantastic being assigned to Peterson and the Colorado Springs area.

“I feel very privileged to not only have the opportunity to be posted to Colorado Springs, but I feel very fortunate to work with the Canadian community and my Colorado Springs counterparts,” Bach said. “I feel I’ve hit the jackpot being able to come down here.”

Along with the military members, Bach works with many civilian members of the Canadian contingent of Team Pete, as well as family members. From her interaction with them, they are very happy to be here.

“People often want extensions (to assignments),” she said. “And if they don’t get them, they tend to be disappointed.”

Bach’s office is a support unit for Canadian personnel working in the Mountain Regions which is comprised of various states including Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. They handle administrative functions in partnership with Canadian armed forces, as well as promote healthy living and physical fitness. There are nine similar offices throughout the U.S. working with about 700 military family members and dependents.

“We do a lot of encouraging and promoting,” Bach said.

The good partnership between Canadian Armed Forces and Team Pete allows Bach and her staff to do a better job, she said. Working with the Airmen & Family Readiness Center, the R.P. Lee Youth Center, the Peterson Club and even the bowling alley allows her to keep personnel and their families involved in the community and makes for a better experience.

“It makes that part of my job that much more enjoyable,” Bach said. “I feel (Team) Peterson has rolled out the red carpet. They have gone above and beyond to support the Canadian military and their families.”

Bach and her team ensure there are plenty of Canadian community events for people to take part in while stationed in Colorado Springs. Families also get involved in the local community off base in different ways. For example, Team Pete’s Canadian partners work with, and support, local charities like Sweet Dreams Colorado, a group providing new pajamas and books to abused and abandoned children living in group and foster homes.

“We do give back to the community,” said Bach.

Canadian partners love the scenery and the locale and get involved in local events, but that doesn’t mean they do not miss home. As good as they say Colorado Springs is, there are still comforts of home that can’t be had here.

“Family mostly,” Bach said. “And Tim Horton’s (a restaurant famous for its coffee). Ketchup chips, All Dressed chips, and the Canadian classic Poutine, a dish featuring French fries, cheese curds and gravy, are other favorites from home.

The uniform may look different, but our Canadian partners are firmly part of the Team Pete family, working with their U.S. counterparts to protect North America in a unique command unlike any found elsewhere in the world.