Cold War threats might have been the motive for building the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in the 1960s, but as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said during its rededication April 15, the unique underground fortress remains of strategic importance to North American defense.
It’s a vital resource for the DoD and an economic driver for the entire state, Hickenlooper told senior military leaders, elected officials and civilian leaders who gathered to commemorate the station’s 50 years of full operation.
“Defense is the third-largest industry in Colorado, tied with agriculture,” the governor said.
The 2015 Military Value Study by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs found the annual economic output from defense activity in Colorado to be $27 billion.
“When you look at the defense industry as a whole, including aerospace, it’s a little over 5 percent of the state’s employment and almost 71/2 percent of the state’s labor income,” Hickenlooper said.
Technology and future planning have enabled the 5-acre, manmade complex to cover threats from early Soviet-manned bombers to short-range ballistic missiles that threaten deployed service members today, according to information displayed in the main tunnel.
Air Force Space Command chief Gen. John Hyten, who served as mission director at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station from 1994-1996, said working in the mountain gave him a different perspective.
“What you see behind the granite is our common security against America’s worst threats,” Hyten said. “I can tell you personally, there is no feeling like walking into the mountain every day to go to work and protect the nation.”
Home to the 721st Mission Support Group, the station supports 13 mission partners, including Air Force Space Command, North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Strategic Command, the National Security Agency and Missile Defense Agency. It includes mission centers, water retention ponds and nuclear, biological and chemical air scrubbers.
“Clearly their [Cheyenne Mountain personnel] responsibilities are even greater than tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve,” Hickenlooper said.
During excavation, total cost of the project was $142 million. Today, the same project might cost $2 billion.
“The engineering to build this facility is truly remarkable,” Hyten said.“It is America’s fortress.”
Cheyenne Mountain was conceived as an underground command center beginning in 1958, and it took the Utah Mining and Engineering Co. 15 months to remove 4.5 acres of granite weighing 700,000 tons.
The complex is under a lower peak and has around 1,800 feet of rock overhead, as noted in the tunnel.
“Some miners gave their lives to accomplish the mission, and today we still benefit from their sacrifice,” said Chaplain Lt. Col. Michael Rash. “That critical mission being to keep North America safe.”
The rededication honored those who engineered the complex and continue to serve at the station.
As part of the anniversary, F-16s from Buckley Air Force Base, as well as Fort Carson Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, flew over the installation. Attendees ventured through the main tunnel toward the 25-ton blast doors.
“The pride, heritage and dedication all of these people [Cheyenne Mountain engineers and personnel] are as much a part of the facility as the granite is a part of the mountain,” Hyten said.
The complex’s concealed setup and round-the-clock missions have led to movies such as Dr. Strangelove (1964) and WarGames (1983).
“I think there is a reason this mountain is featured in so many movies, TV shows and video games,” Hickenlooper said, “because there is nothing like it on earth.”