It was once the most heroic thing a soldier could do. They’d strap themselves up with the barest of combat essentials and jump out of the back of a perfectly good aircraft into uncertain danger — often ending up miles away from their intended drop zone and, sometimes, completely on their own.
Combat jumps led the Allied Forces to victory in WWII. These same tactics were employed during the Korean War and Vietnam War and, eventually, were used by Rangers and Green Berets in Grenada and Panama. When it came time for the Global War on Terrorism, well, let’s just say there are only a handful of combat jumps that come without asterisks attached.
It should be noted that this list cannot be exhaustive, as there are likely some jumps that that have yet to be declassified. Also, there were many airborne insertions done in-theater, but those don’t qualify you for the coveted “mustard stain,” so they don’t make the list.
The following are the only jumps that have happened since September 11, 2001 that satisfy all the requirements to fully classify as combat jumps.
Now it is known as Kandahar Airfield, home to the ISAF command, several NATO nation’s commands, a TGI Fridays, and a pond full of human excrement.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Tony Wickman)
Just 38 days after the horrific attacks of September 11th, the 75th Ranger Regiment sent 200 of their most badass Rangers to meet with the 101st Airborne Division 100 miles south of Kandahar, Afghanistan — the last bastion of complete Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Rangers landed on a derelict strip of land and expected heavy resistance. In actuality, they found just one, lone Taliban fighter who presumably sh*t himself as 200 Rangers dropped in on him.
There, they established a sufficient forward operating base, called FOB Rhino, which opened the way to take back Kandahar for the Afghan people.
Fun fact: they technically beat the next entry by a few days, forever solidifying their bragging rights.
The 75th Rangers, who are featured heavily on this list, led the way into Iraq by making combat jumps into Iraq in March, 2003 — the first in Iraq since Desert Storm.
The Rangers landed in the region a few weeks earlier by airborne insertion to capture the lead operational planner of the September 11th attacks. They accomplished this within three days of touching boots to the ground. The next wave of 2nd Battalion 75th Rangers came to secure al-Qa’im and Haditha before making their way into Baghdad.
If you didn’t know about this one… Don’t worry. Literally everyone in the 173rd will remind you of this whenever their personal Airborne-ness is brought into question.
(U.S. Army photo by Specialist Adam Sanders)
Operation Northern Delay
In the early morning of March 26th, 2003, 996 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Division jumped into the relatively empty Bashur Airfield and stopped six entire divisions of Saddam’s army from continuing on to Baghdad.
This marked the first wave of conventional troops in the region and the beginning of the end of Saddam’s regime. This was also the only jump conducted by conventional USAF airmen as the 786th Security Forces Squadron also jumped with them.
Come on, 75th Rangers! You guys are leaving out all the good, juicy details of your classified missions!
Various Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment jumps in Afghanistan
Very little is known about the last two publicly-disclosed combat jumps, as is the case with most JSOC missions, other than the fact that they were both conducted by the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance Company Teams 3 and 1.
RRC Team 3 jumped into Tillman Drop Zone in southeast Afghanistan on July 3rd, 2004, to deploy tactical equipment in a combat military free-fall parachute drop.
This was the last RRC time made a jump until Team 1 jumped five years later on July 11th, 2009, into an even more remote location of Afghanistan — but this time, scant reports state that the jumps including a tandem passenger to aid in deploying tactical equipment.
We’ll just have to wait for the history books to be written, I guess.
Raymond A. Spruance gets plaudits for what he did at the Battle of Midway. And deservedly so, since he won the battle while outnumbered and against a very capable foe.
But he arguably pulled off a much more incredible feat of arms two years after Midway, when the U.S. Fifth Fleet appeared off the Mariana Islands.
When the Japanese learned the Americans were off the Aleutians, they sent their fleet — a much larger force than Spruance faced at Midway, including nine carriers with 430 aircraft, escorted by a powerful force of surface combatants. Japan also had planes based on the Marianas.
To protect the transports, Spruance had to operate west of the Marianas. His 15 carriers were equipped with the F6F Hellcat, a plane designed with lessons from combat against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero in mind (of course, finding a nearly-intact Zero on Akutan Island didn’t hurt).
According to CombinedFleet.com, Japanese admiral Jisaburo Ozawa planned to use the Japanese bases on the Mariana Islands to hit the Americans from long range — essentially shuttling his planes back and forth between the islands and the carriers. He was dealing with pilots who were very inexperienced after nearly three years of war had devastated Japan’s pilots.
Spruance, though, had enough time to hit the land-based airfields first. Then he set his cruisers and battleships in a gun line ahead of his carriers. In essence, his plan was to use the advanced radar on his ships to first vector in the Hellcats. Then, the battleships and cruisers would further thin out the enemy planes.
Spruance’s plan would work almost to perfection. According to Samuel Eliot Morison in “New Guinea and the Marianas,” between 10:00 a.m. and 2:50 p.m., four major strikes totaling 326 planes came at Spruance’s fleet. Of those planes, 219 failed to return to their carriers. The Americans called it “The Marianas Turkey Shoot.”
The worst was yet to come. On June 19, American submarines sank the Japanese carriers Taiho and Shokaku. The next day, Spruance began his pursuit. Late in the evening of June 20 the Americans sent out a strike of their own with 226 aircraft. The attack would sink the Japanese carrier Hiyo and two oilers.
A Japanese log said it all: “Surviving carrier air power: 35 aircraft operational.”
Spruance had just won a devastating victory – perhaps the most one-sided in the Pacific Theater.
Imagine the U.S. building a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the middle of New York City. Or one of Nikita Khrushchev in Washington DC. As unlikely as its sounds for a mighty empire to build such a monument to a once-great, potentially vanquished foe, that’s how Ancient Rome used to roll. No matter what your high school history teacher told you, the Romans were not always the preeminent ancient group of ass-kickers history gives them credit for.
Mighty Carthage would field its greatest commander, Hannibal Barca, against Rome. He would turn out to be a leader so great even the Romans would build statues in his honor.
It didn’t end well for Carthage but Rome famously got its ass handed to it a few times.
Don’t get it twisted, Rome in its heyday did kick a lot of barbarian ass from Londinium to Mesopotamia and is worthy of its reputation. But before any of that, the young Roman Empire wasn’t even as big as modern-day Italy. In the Punic Wars, they chose the wrong empire to square off against. Carthage was much more powerful than tiny Rome, and its leadership was much better at fielding armies. One of those was Hannibal Barca, known to history simply as “Hannibal” (when you’re famous on the level of Cher, Madonna, or Jesus only one name is required).
Hannibal fought Rome from the start of the very first Punic War, but it was the Second Punic War where Hannibal was really unleashed. After crushing Roman allies in modern-day Spain, he left on his now-famous crossing of the Alps to hit Rome from behind, a move no one expected, least of all Rome. It was a move that shocked the ancient world and allowed Hannibal to plunder parts of northern Italy for almost a year. The following Spring, he crushed a Roman army at Cannae, killing or capturing some 70,000 men.
That face when you kill 70,000 Romans on their home turf.
For almost a decade, Hannibal and his army slogged around the Italian Peninsula, defeating the Romans and killing thousands in battles at Tarentum, Capua, Silarus, Herndonia, and Petelia. Tens of thousands of Romans died at the hands of Hannibal and his army, but time was not on his side. The Romans would not give in, and Carthage was losing ground elsewhere. Rome gained new allies and fresh troops, while Hannibal couldn’t take a Roman harbor. It ultimately doomed him. He would be recalled to Africa where he was defeated by the Romans at the Battle of Zama, his invincibility finally shattered.
Rome would never get its hands on its greatest enemy. Hannibal died after escaping from Roman soldiers, circumstances unknown. To this day, no one is sure where he escaped to or where his final resting place was. What they know is that for decades, Romans lived in fear that he might mount an army and return to exact revenge. When Rome was in its full glory days, and the threat of Hannibal’s return was diminished by time, the Romans built statues of the man in the streets, an advertisement that they were able to beat such a worthy adversary.
The $207.2 billion total spending in the Air Force’s 2021 budget request holds even with what the service was allotted in 2020.
The lack of change in dollars contrasts with Air Force officials’ comments about a need for dramatic change to prepare for potential high-end conflict with a power like Russia or China.
“If you have platforms that are not going to play in that 2030 fight, is there a near-term risk, which is real risk, that we need to take as a department to buy our future, to be able to have the connectivity we need to fight at the speeds the future’s going to demand?” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in January.
The 2021 request, released Monday, stopped short of big shakeups, such as ditching entire aircraft inventories or scrapping major procurement programs, according to Defense News.
But the proposed 2021 budget would part with a number of noteworthy aircraft, freeing up .1 billion in the next five-year spending plan and reflecting a belief that “winning in the future will require investing in the right new capabilities now,” an Air Force spokeswoman told Military.com.
Below, you can which aircraft the Air Force wants to retire.
17 B-1B Lancer bombers.
The B-1B bomber fleet would drop from 61 aircraft in 2020 to 44 in 2021, all of which are in the active-duty Air Force, according to budget documents.
The Lancer, which is no longer capable of carrying nuclear weapons, doesn’t have the highest ceiling of the Air Force’s bombers, but it is considered the bomber fleet’s “backbone,” as it can fly the fastest, topping 900 mph, and carries the largest payload, up to 75,000 pounds of guided and unguided weapons.
The service plans to get rid of the oldest of the B-1Bs, which have required more attention from maintainers given the high operational tempo the bomber has faced in recent years.
The Air Force has flirted with retiring some A-10s for years, and its 2021 proposal would finally cull that fleet, with the Air National Guard losing 39 and the Air Force Reserve losing seven. (The active Air Force would gain two, for a total of 44 A-10s removed from service.)
The Air Force currently has 281 A-10s and recently finished putting new wings on 173 of them. Boeing got a billion-dollar contract in 2019 to finish re-winging the A-10s that needed them.
Once those 44 aircraft are removed from service, the Air Force will proceed with re-winging those that remain, an Air Force spokeswoman told Military.com.
The Air Force’s 2021 budget proposes dropping 16 KC-10 tankers from the active fleet and eight and five KC-135s from the active fleet and the Reserve, respectively.
KC-10s date to the 1980s and KC-135s to the 1950s. The Air Force says the ones that would be removed would be the oldest and least capable in the force, according to Air Force Magazine, but the cuts would come as the tanker meant to replace them, the KC-46, is still at least three years away from being able to deploy.
The 2021 budget includes nearly billion for 15 more KC-46 tankers, as well as an additional 0 million for modifications and research, and development, testing, and evaluation.
Air Force officials have said they want to hold on to legacy tankers until the KC-46 is working properly. The head of US Transportation Command, which oversees aerial refueling operations, said in January that KC-46 delays risked causing “a real dip” in the military’s tanker availability.
Starting in 2021, the Air Force wants to divest its Block 20 and Block 30 RQ-4 surveillance drones, a total of 24, leaving only its 10 Block 40 RQ-4s.
Four of the Block 20s had been converted to Battlefield Airborne Communications Nodes, which allow different battlefield communications systems to talk to each other.
To replace the RQ-4s with the BACN (which makes them EQ-4s), the service will get five E-11A manned aircraft with the BACN system, buying one a year starting next year, an Air Force spokesperson told Defense News.
The RQ-4 often works in conjuction with other space-based and airborne information-gathering aircraft, like the U-2 spy plane, whose future was also put in doubt by the latest budget documents.
The Air Force also wants to retire 24 C-130H mobility aircraft from the Air National Guard.
The C-130H airlifter, as well as the MC-130H used for special operations operations, are among the oldest in the Air Force and “are experiencing airworthiness, maintainability and operational limitations,” according to budget documents.
In the 2021 proposal, the active force would lose three MC-130Hs and gain four MC-130J, the next model, while the Air National Guard would acquire 19 C-130Js.
Coalition air power had a busy Veterans’ Day Weekend while attacking the Islamic State of Iraqi and Syria, also known as ISIS.
Across Iraq and Syria, 84 airstrikes were carried out against the terrorist group, 27 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Iraqi forces have been trying to liberate from ISIS since October.
The attacks took place as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the region. Iraqi forces are moving towards the city, in an offensive expected to take months, according to a DOD News article.
“In my judgment, what Mosul does is reduce ISIL inside of Iraq back to an insurgency with terrorist actions and get them to a level where Iraqi security forces with a minimum level of outside support will be able to manage the violence inside Iraq,” Dunford said. “It denies ISIL freedom of movement and sanctuary inside Iraq.”
The terrorist group was in retreat as their eastern defenses around Mosul collapsed, and the Iraqi Army claimed to have secured the Intisar district of the city, and was moving into the neighborhood of Salaam.
As Coalition forces move in, there have been reports of increasing atrocities carried out by ISIS. According to VOA news, one video released by the terrorist group showed four children — none older than 14 — being forced to execute alleged spies. ISIS had developed “hand grenade” drones and was using them around Mosul.
In other news about the fight against ISIS, the BBC reported that ISIS carried out a half-dozen bombings around Baghdad, and a tweet from CombatAir reported that a Russian MiG-29K Fulcrum operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov was lost.
According to a Nov. 11 release, 24 air strikes were carried out by coalition forces, seven of which took place near Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged seven mortar systems, an artillery system, three vehicles, and two weapon caches. Other targets hit that day included a command and control node, oil production facilities, three supply routes, fighting positions, heavy machine guns, a storage container, and a bulldozer.
A Department of Defense release on Nov. 12 reported that five out of 23 strikes that day took place near Mosul. Those five strikes hit a fighting position; five mortar systems; two tunnel entrances; two heavy machines guns; four vehicles; a vehicle bomb; and a weapons cache. The other 18 strikes blasted a number of other targets, including a headquarters building; six oil wellheads; five fighting positions; and six ISIS “tactical units.
President Donald Trump again teased the prospect of placing a “big order” of F/A-18 Super Hornets to a cheering crowd at Boeing’s South Carolina factory on Friday.
“We are looking seriously at a big order” of F-18s said Trump to applause from the crowd at Boeing, the company that builds the F/A-18.
Trump’s Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced in January that the military would “review” the F-35 program and possibly opt for more “advanced Super Hornets” instead of the F-35C, the Navy’s carrier-based variant of the Joint Strike Fighter that continues to struggle.
The advanced Super Hornet package offered by Boeing builds on the company’s reputation for delivering upgrades to the F-18, first built in the 1970s, on time and on cost.
This contrasts heavily with the Navy’s F-35C, made by Boeing rival Lockheed Martin, which has faced significant difficulties achieving readiness in the military.
Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18 programs, told Business Insider that even with the coming F-35C naval variant, US carrier air wings would consist of a majority of F/A-18s into the 2040s. In fact, Boeing has contracts currently underway to update the F/A-18s.
Afghan Taliban representatives say they have called off two days of peace talks with U.S. officials in Qatar, just hours after they had announced the talks would take place without any delegates from Afghanistan’s government.
A Taliban representative in Afghanistan had told Reuters early on Jan. 8, 2019, that the talks would begin in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Jan. 9, 2019.
That Taliban figure also had said the group was refusing to allow what he called “puppet” Afghan officials to take part in the Doha meetings.
But a Taliban representative in Doha told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan later on Jan. 8, 2019, that the militant Islamic group had “postponed” the talks “until further consultations” could resolve an “agenda disagreement.”
Another Taliban source told Reuters the disagreement focused on Washington’s insistence that Afghan government officials must be involved in the talks.
He said there also was disagreement on a possible cease-fire deal and a proposed prisoner exchange.
Afghan Peace Talks Off Called Off By Taliban, Citing ‘Puppet Officials’ Asked To Attend
“The U.S. officials insisted that the Taliban should meet the Afghan authorities in Qatar and both sides were in disagreement over declaring a cease-fire in 2019,” he said. “Both sides have agreed to not meet in Qatar.”
The Taliban has consistently rejected requests from regional powers to allow Afghan government officials to take part in peace talks, insisting that the United States is its main adversary in Afghanistan.
The talks in Doha in early January 2019 would have been the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The Taliban also called off a meeting with U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia early January 2019 because of Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the negotiating table.
Former Afghan Interior Minister Omar Daudzai, a senior adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, was traveling to Pakistan on Jan. 8, 2019, for expected talks with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi about the peace process.
The acting Navy secretary is reportedly under a lot of pressure from President Donald Trump to get the USS Gerald R. Ford to work, something his predecessor failed to do.
The aircraft carrier is over budget, behind schedule, and still experiencing problems with certain key technologies, namely the advanced weapons elevators built to quickly deliver munitions to the flight deck.
“The Ford is something the president is very concerned about,” Thomas Modly, who very recently took over as acting secretary of the Navy after former secretary Richard Spencer resigned, said at the US Naval Institute Defense Forum this week, Military.com reports.
“I think his concerns are justified because the ship is very, very expensive and it needs to work,” he added, explaining that there is a “trail of tears as to why we are where we are, but we need to fix that ship and make sure that it works.”
Modly assured the audience that fixing the Ford would be a top priority. “There is nothing worse than a ship like this being out there … as a metaphor and a whipping boy for why the Navy can’t do anything right,” he said, according to the outlet.
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford steams in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 27, 2019.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Connor Loessin)
Spencer, Modly’s predecessor, had previously staked his job on getting the Ford working properly, promising President Trump that he would get the elevators working by the end of the post-shakedown availability or the president could fire him.
The PSA ended in October with only a handful of elevators operational. The Ford is currently going through post-delivery tests and trials, with plans for the elevator issues to be sorted over this 18-month period.
As Spencer was questioned about accountability, the former Navy secretary sharply criticized the Navy’s primary shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), accusing the company of having “no idea” what it was doing with the Ford.
Gerald R. Ford under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding.
(U.S. Navy photo by Ricky Thompson)
Now, the Ford’s challenges have fallen in Modly’s lap.
“Everything that the Ford should be able to do is going to be a game-changer for us,” the acting Navy secretary said, according to Military.com. “We just have to make sure that it can do it because we’ve got several more coming behind it.”
The USS John F. Kennedy, the second Ford-class carrier, was slated to be christened Saturday. The Navy has two more of the new supercarriers on the way after that.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The first Navy Medal of Honor recipient was Captain of the Maintop John Williams. He was an enlisted leader sent to reinforce an attack on a Confederate battery at Mathias Point who continued caring for all of his sailors and the flag even as he was wounded and under intense fire in June, 1861.
Union warships and Confederate batteries exchange fire at Aquia Creek.
(U.S. Navy sketch by Lt. Cash)
The attack on Mathias Point was part of the constant struggle during the war for control of the waterways in the divided nation. The typical script in the course of the war was of Union troops and boats pushing their way along rivers and coasts to starve Confederate cities of supply, but there were early cases of Confederate troops cutting off river access for U.S. forces.
In May, 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia sent troops to seize control of the Potomac, cutting off access to the sea from Washington D.C. Predictably, the Union ordered the Potomac flotilla, a small command consisting of just a few ships, to re-open the waterways.
One focus was Aquia Creek, a waterway that met up with the terminus of the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads at Mathias Point. Obviously, a juncture of major land and sea transportation infrastructure is always a key strategic point.
Union sailors work with a cannon onboard the USS Thomas Freeborn.
The main ship in the flotilla was a small steamer, USS Thomas Freeborn, that carried only a few, light pieces of artillery, but it attempted multiple attacks on the new Confederate batteries on the Potomac in May and June, 1861. The initial fighting was not only indecisive, it was inconsequential. Neither side was able to inflict a serious injury on a member of the other force, and neither the battery nor the ships suffered real damage.
So, the Navy decided to switch to landing parties that would break up fortifications and prevent the construction of new fortifications and batteries. The first attack was on June 24, but it was during the follow-up attack on June 27 that Captain of the Maintop John Williams distinguished himself and earned the first Navy Medal of Honor.
Captain of the maintop was an enlisted position below that of the chief petty officer.
Union ships and Confederate batteries clash in 1861 as landing parties row to shore..
Potomac Flotilla Commander James Ward led the attack against a “large Confederate force,” which had not yet built fortifications on a position near Mathias Point. The Union troops managed to drive the Confederate pickets back toward their main force, but Ward was hit with a fatal gunshot wound soon after.
The men were ordered back to the boats, but then a second landing was made under the direction of a lieutenant, and the landing was quickly pushed back.
During this second landing, Williams “told his men, while lying off in the boat, that every man must die on his thwart sooner than leave a man behind,” according to his Medal of Honor citation. He was wounded in the thigh by a musket ball during the engagement, but retained control of his boat and carried the flag in his hand back to the Freeborn after the staff was destroyed by a musket ball.
Union ships fire on CSA batteries in Virginia in 1861.
The orders for his medal would not be approved until April 3, 1863.
Since then, Navy personnel have received hundreds of Medals of Honor. Most recently, the medal was awarded to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Britt Slabinski for his initiative under serious fire in Operation Anaconda in 2002. Slabinski rescued multiple wounded service members after the insertion helicopter was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade and led a grueling defense until extracted.
“The UNHRC operates on the basis of the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation. It is a UN body that, like the entire UN system, is called upon to serve all Member States, not just one country or group of countries,” Russia’s UN mission said in a statement. “Unfortunately, our colleagues in Washington do not understand this or do not recognize it.”
Russia added that the US had attempted to use the council as an “obedient tool to promote only their interests” and punish unfavorable countries.
“Against this background, attempts by the US to blame the politicization of the work of the Council and the failure of its initiative by almost the whole world, including its traditional allies, seem cynical,” it said.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a press conference that the move was “not a retreat from human rights commitments,” and blasted the 47-member council as “a hypocritical and self serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”
The human rights arm of the United Nations was established in 2006. Members grouped by region are voted in by the General Assembly for three year terms, and can be suspended if they are found to grossly violate human rights during their tenure.
Russia previously served one term on the council but lost its reelection in 2016 because of its support for the Assad regime’s war in Syria.
Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China, have been criticized by rights groups for their places on the council despite their systematic violations of human rights.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
According to legend, Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain is a sleeping dragon that many years ago saved the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. In the Native American story, the Great Spirit punished the people by sending a massive flood, but after they repented, it sent a dragon to drink the water away. The dragon, engorged by the massive amount of water, fell asleep, was petrified and then became the mountain.
Unlike the dragon of legend, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex has never slept during 50 years of operations. Since being declared fully operational in April 1966, the installation has played a vital role in the Department of Defense during both peacetime and wartime.
Though the complex may have changed names during the past five decades, its mission has never strayed from defending the U.S. and its allies. Today, it is known as Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, with a primary role of collecting information from satellites and ground-based sensors throughout the world and disseminating the data to North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command — a process Steven Rose, Cheyenne Mountain AFS deputy director, compares to the work done by the stem of the human brain.
“Those sensors are your nerves out there sensing that information,” Rose said, “but the nerves all come back to one spot in the human body, together in the brain stem, entangled in a coherent piece. We are the brain stem that’s pulling it all together, correlating it, making sense of it, and passing it up to the brain — whether it’s the commander at NORAD, NORTHCOM or STRATCOM — for someone to make a decision on what that means. That is the most critical part of the nervous system and the most vulnerable. Cheyenne Mountain provides that shield around that single place where all of that correlation and data comes into.”
In the 1950s, the DOD decided to build the installation as a command and control center defense against long-range Soviet bombers. As the “brain stem,” it would be one of the first installations on the enemy’s target list, so it was built to withstand a direct nuclear attack.
Cheyenne Mountain’s 15 buildings rest on more than 1,300 springs, 18 inches from the mountain’s rock walls, so they could move independently in the event of a nuclear blast and the inherent seismic event. In addition, an EMP, being a natural component of a nuclear blast, was already considered in Cheyenne Mountain’s original design and construction features, Rose said.
“Back then, it was just part of the effect of a nuclear blast that we were designed for at Cheyenne Mountain,” he added. “If you fast forward 50 years from our construction, the EMP threat has become more important to today’s society because of the investment that has been made into electronics. Just by sheer coincidence, since we were designed in the 50s and 60s for a nuclear blast and its EMP component, we are sitting here today as the number one rated EMP protected facility. The uniqueness of the mountain is that the entire installation is surrounded by granite, which is a natural EMP shield.”
The station, built 7,000 feet above sea level, opened as the NORAD Combat Operations Center. When NORAD and the newly stood up NORTHCOM moved their main command center to Peterson Air Force Base in 2008, many believed Cheyenne Mountain had closed. Today, Cheyenne Mountain hosts an alternate command center for NORAD and is landlord to more than a dozen DOD agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“When I bring official visitors up here, not only are they surprised that we’re still open,” said Colonel Gary Cornn, Cheyenne Mountain AFS Installation Commander. “Many are impressed by the original construction, the blasting of the tunnels, how the buildings are constructed inside, and some of the things we show them, such as the survivability and capability we have in the blast valves, the springs, the way we do our air in the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) filtering and the huge blast doors. It’s funny to see senior officers and civilians become sort of amazed like little kids again.”
The threats and sources have drastically changed from when the station opened at the height of the Cold War, but the station’s iconic 25-ton steel doors remain the same, ready to seal the mountain in 40 seconds to protect it from any threat. The underground city beneath 2,000 feet of granite still provides the protection to keep the station relevant as it begins its next half-century as “America’s Fortress.”
Longtime Cheyenne Mountain employees like Rose and Russell Mullins, the 721st Communications Squadron deputy director, call themselves “mountain men.” Mullins’ time in the mountain goes back to the Cold War era, about halfway through its history to 1984.
Although the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was the main focus, today’s Airmen conduct essentially the same mission: detect and track incoming threats to the United States; however, the points of origin for those threats have multiplied and are not as clearly defined.
“The tension in here wasn’t high from what might happen,” Mullins said. “The tension was high to be sure you could always detect (a missile launch). We didn’t dwell on the fact that the Soviet Union was the big enemy. We dwelled on the fact that we could detect anything they could throw at us.
“There was a little bit of stress back then, but that hasn’t changed. I would say the stress now is just as great as during the Cold War, but the stress today is the great unknown.”
The 9/11 attacks added another mission to NORAD and the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate – the monitoring of the U.S. and Canadian interior air space. They stand ready to assist the Federal Aviation Administration and Navigation Canada to respond to threats from the air within the continental U.S. and Canada.
Airplane icons blot out most of the national map on the NORAD/NORTHCOM Battle Cab Traffic Situation Display in the alternate command center. To the right another screen shows the Washington, D.C., area, called the Special Flight Restrictions Area, which was also added after 9/11.
Whenever a crisis would affect NORAD’s vulnerability or ability to operate, the commander would move his command center and advisors to the Battle Cab, said Lt. Col. Tim Schwamb, the Cheyenne Mountain AFS branch chief for NORAD/NORTHCOM.
“I would say that on any given day, the operations center would be a center of controlled chaos; where many different things may be happening at once,” Schwamb said. “We’re all trying to ensure that we’re taking care of whatever threat may be presenting itself in as short an amount of time as possible.
“I would describe it as the nerve center of our homeland defense operations. This is where the best minds in NORAD and U.S. Northern Command are, so that we can see, predict, and counter any threats that would happen to the homeland and North American region. It’s really a room full of systems that we monitor throughout the day, 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, that give us the information to help us accomplish the mission.”
Protecting America’s Fortress is a responsibility that falls to a group of firefighters and security forces members, but fighting fires and guarding such a valuable asset in a mountain presents challenges quite different from any other Air Force base, said Matthew Backeberg, a 721st Civil Engineer Squadron supervisor firefighter. Firefighters train on high-angle rescues because of the mountain’s unique environment, but even the most common fire can be especially challenging.
“Cheyenne Mountain is unique in that we have super challenges as far as ventilation, smoke and occupancy,” Backeberg said. “In a normal building, you pull the fire alarm, and the people are able to leave. Inside the mountain, if you pull the fire alarm, the people are depending on me to tell them a safer route to get out.
“If a fire happens inside (the mountain), we pretty much have to take care of it,” Backeberg added. “We’re dependent on our counterparts in the CE world to help us ventilate the facility, keep the fire going in the direction we want it to go, and allow the occupants of the building to get to a safe location – outside the half mile long tunnel.”
Although Cheyenne Mountain, the site of movies and television series such as “WarGames,” “Interstellar,” “Stargate SG-1” and “Terminator,” attracts occasional trespassers and protesters, security forces members more often chase away photographers, said Senior Airman Ricardo Pierre Collie, a 721st Security Forces Squadron member.
“The biggest part of security forces’ day is spent responding to alarms and getting accustomed to not seeing the sun on a 12-hour shift when working inside the mountain,” Collie said.
Security forces must also be ready to respond at a moment’s notice because, when charged with protecting an installation like Cheyenne Mountain AFS, the reaction time is even more crucial. Airmen like Collie feel their responsibly to protect America’s Fortress remains as vital today as it was during the Cold War.
“The important day at Cheyenne Mountain wasn’t the day we opened in 1966,” Rose said. “The next important date isn’t in April 2016 (the installation’s 50-year anniversary), it’s about all those days in between. The Airmen who come here to Cheyenne Mountain every day will be watching your skies and shores in (the nation’s) defense.”
As Cheyenne Mountain AFS enters its next 50 years, the dragon remains awake and alert to all threats against the U.S.
Every day, scores of US military commands reach millions with posts aimed to inform and inspire: videos of valor, motivational photos, and, yes, puppy pics.
The military has codified the rules for managing these official accounts. But sometimes these social-media pros flub it — even the four-star command responsible for the US’s nuclear weapons.
Here’s a blooper reel of some of the military’s most embarrassing and dumb social-media mistakes since 2016.
A still image from a video posted by US Strategic Command.
(US Strategic Command)
1. ‘#Ready to drop something much, much bigger’
US Strategic Command, which oversees the US’s nuclear arsenal, ringed in 2019 with a reminder that they’re ready, at any time, to start a nuclear war.
Playing off the image of the ball dropping in New York City’s Times Square, STRATCOM’s official account posted a tweet that included a clip of a B-2 dropping bombs. The command apologized for the message.
The A-10 Thunderbolt is armed with a 30mm cannon that fires so rapidly that the crack of each bullet blends into a thundering sound.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook)
In May 2018, the internet was debating whether the word heard on a short audio recording was “Yanny” or “Laurel.” Then the US Air Force joined the debate, referring to a recent strike on Taliban.
“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the official US Air Force Twitter account said.
The A-10 gunship carries a fearsome 30mm cannon used to destroy buildings, shred ground vehicles, and kill insurgents. It can fire so rapidly — nearly 3,900 rounds a minute — that the sound of each bullet is indistinguishable from the previous one, blending into a thundering “BRRRT.”
The US Air Force apologized for the tweet and deleted it, acknowledging it was in “poor taste.”
Mindy Kaling’s joke briefly got some props from the US Army.