Peterson Air Force Base’s new commander, Col. Todd Moore, wants his officers and airmen to “be more aggressive and more creative” in tackling the 21st Space Wing’s mission, he said at the annual State of the Wing event last week.

“[W]e’ve had some of these capabilities around for a very long time, and our adversaries might be very familiar with how we employ them,” said Moore, who took command of Peterson Air Force Base and the 21st Space Wing three months ago.

“I’m challenging my officers to be less dependent on rigid, rote thinking, extending themselves a little bit beyond the checklists and the books, and getting onto the whiteboard, and getting shoulder to shoulder to think about how to solve those problems that we haven’t faced yet — but that we will. I am relying on their intellect.

“These colonels here, they’re wonderful; they’re great leaders, but I know that the problem-solvers are probably 26 years old or younger, and I want to get them thinking critically. … I want them solving those problems, and I’m demanding that my leadership embrace those things… So we’re going to push the limits.”

In his address, Moore discussed the growing role of space operations and goals for his tenure, as well as the investigation of groundwater contamination by toxic firefighting chemicals used at Peterson AFB and racism on campus at the Air Force Academy.

Mastering space situational awareness and understanding space adversaries represents “a big jump” for the 21st Space Wing, and is critical to the nation’s security, Moore said.

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The so-called “three Cs” of space — congested, contested and competitive — mean monitoring the space environment in real time is becoming increasingly urgent. As such, Moore said, Colorado occupies a unique position in defending the nation.

“I would argue there’s something special about Colorado,” he said. “When you consider the mission of the 460th Space Wing up at Buckley [AFB], when you consider the mission of the 21st Space Wing, we are the eyes and the ears that defend the homeland — and deterrence begins with the ability to see and detect and understand what an adversary might be doing to threaten North America… It is a privilege to be part of that front line.”

Moore said the Air Force is reevaluating how it understands space, going beyond the traditional work of merely cataloging what’s out there.

“We’re having to make a big jump intellectually and also from a capability [standpoint],” he said. “It is no longer OK just to update a catalog. We now have the obligation to understand what is actually happening … to understand what an adversary may or may not be doing” and to use that information to thwart attacks and address threats.

“It’s one thing to understand what’s happening in space; it’s another thing to be able to present our national decision makers, our national leaders, our joint warfighters with options in order to deal with those threats that would compromise our joint capabilities in space,” he said.

Moore said one of his goals is to expose airmen to everything the 21st Space Wing mission encompasses — visiting a range of sites and national security spaces, meeting operational leaders, learning Advanced Space Operations — so they can bring change to the Air Force.

“We have an opportunity … to grow space-minded airmen,” he said.“Because the time is coming, and some could argue even now, that space is a domain where we need a lot more expertise. And we are pushing to grow that talent, to push that growth of intellect, and then get them back out to the rest of the Air Force where they can influence all of the others.”

Peterson AFB is navigating some difficult challenges between the base and the community, Moore acknowledged, including the contamination of local water supplies and soil with toxic perfluorinated chemicals.

In July, the Air Force unveiled a 600-page report confirming that firefighting foam used at Peterson had caused PFC levels more than 1,000 times higher than a national health advisory limit. The Business Journal first broke the news in January 2016 that water in the Security, Fountain and Widefield systems had higher-than-recommended levels of the toxic chemicals, linked to birth defects and certain types of cancer.

“We are trying to get after this issue,” Moore said. “We recognize this is not just an issue for Peterson Air Force Base, but it’s an issue across the Air Force that we’re working through — and by virtue of that there’s a series of policy and legal issues that the Air Force is having to navigate.

“… Getting to the bottom of it and getting answers from the headquarters and getting answers from the staff is a high priority for us. It takes time for the staff to do that, and I know it is not happening fast enough, and I am empathetic towards it. But we continue to push, we continue to ask the questions … to get those answers for the community that supports us so faithfully.”

Moore also addressed the racist slurs scrawled outside black students’ doors at USAFA’s preparatory school in late September, and praised Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria’s widely reported speech and rebuke to cadets — that if they can’t treat others with respect, they should “get out.”

Moore reassured families that “when your airmen are entrusted to the 21st Space Wing, they’re going to be surrounded by leaders who promote a culture of dignity and respect. We will absolutely refuse inappropriate behavior; it has no room.

“As the events at the Air Force Academy last week brought a highlight, I would go on to say that the general’s comments that were put out there in the media were awe-inspiring,” he said.