Right now, Reggie Ash is striving to keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, where military leaders say it belongs. But throughout his decades-long career, he’s also founded a military academy, led troops safely home from Afghanistan and served as a commanding officer to squadrons that ranked among the best in the U.S. Air Force.
“I’ve always been a tremendous patriot,” Ash said. “Something my parents instilled in me was just to love my country.”
When he was younger Ash thought he wanted to be an astronaut. To get there, he first attempted to become an Air Force fighter pilot. Though he never became a pilot, Ash built a 24-year career in the Air Force, some of which was spent in Colorado Springs.
He’s lived in the Springs since 2014 and for the past two years has served as chief defense development officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, where he works to recruit and retain military units.
“One of the great things about the job is I get to engage with our military leaders, our business leaders and our elected leaders and bring them all together,” he said.
When he’s not working, Ash enjoys golfing, skiing with his children and enjoying the natural beauty of Colorado.
“I’m standing in my office right now and I can see from Cheyenne Mountain to Pikes Peak to Garden of the Gods and I think, ‘How lucky am I that I get to continue to serve this community,’” he said. “I’ve had a life of public service, having been an Air Force officer, and I just feel blessed that I can continue to serve my community.”
Ash spoke with the Business Journal about transitioning from the military to his role with the Chamber & EDC, and his work to keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs.
Tell us about yourself.
I was in the Air Force for 24 years. I was a cyber officer in the Air Force. About a third of my career was here in Colorado Springs between two assignments at Peterson [Air Force Base] and one at the Air Force Academy. My final Air Force assignment was at Peterson Air Force Base as the commander of the 21st Mission Support Group. That’s a group that is charged with running Peterson Air Force Base. They do the communications, the roads, the infrastructure, the buildings, the parks and rec, the transportation — all of that city kind of stuff. We had about 1,700 people in the group. That was a lot of fun.
How did you transition from the military to your role with the chamber?
So first, I was a founder of Colorado Military Academy which is right outside the gate at Peterson. From my experience as a group commander there, I knew firsthand how important it was to have a school there. During our two years, when I was a commander at Peterson where I had an assigned house, my wife spent four hours a day — two hours in morning and two hours in afternoon — commuting our kids to Air Academy High School and Eagleview Middle School. We chose for them to go into those schools because of the specific programs they had. So I was very passionate about ‘Let’s get some good educational options that are very close to the base and that kids who live on base could just walk to.’ So I got involved in that and as the school entered their second academic year, I told the board, I never intended to be in education and I just really wanted the school to get off the ground. I love educators. It just was not the right thing for me careerwise. I’m very proud to have been part of that team — to have led the team — that founded Colorado Military Academy.
About the time that I was leaving the school, there was somebody here at the chamber who used to work for me at Peterson. He was my right hand man. I was the group commander and he was the group superintendent, Chief [Vincent]Persichetti. So Chief Persichetti called me up and said Rich Burchfield — who had this job before me and who is also a good friend of mine — is leaving. He asked, are you interested in the job? I said, ‘Heck yeah, I’m interested in that job.’ That’s how I ended up here. They didn’t just hand the job to me, by the way. It was almost a three-month, three-interview process to get this job.
As the chief defense development officer, what does your role entail?
I think I just have an awesome job. I say that I’ve got three responsibilities here. First of all, I connect our business community to our military installations here. Second, I get to advocate on behalf of our airmen and soldiers and guardians. When you’re in uniform or even a civilian employee of the executive branch, there are things you can’t say publicly. There are things you cannot say to our elected leaders, and I get to say those things for them. The third thing is as an economic development officer at the Chamber & EDC, I get to help create the environment here in Colorado Springs for the growth of the defense and aerospace industry. Most of that work, from my perspective, goes into making sure that the military units that are here stay here. Every so often the Department of Defense does look at moving a military unit. Also when the military creates a new unit, if it makes sense, let’s try to bring that unit here. That has taken a very significant portion of my time, almost 100 percent of my time for the last 12 months, but really since I’ve been hired what’s taken a lot of time is U.S. Space Command and making sure we keep U.S. Space Command here.
The Trump administration announced Jan. 13 it would move Space Command from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama. Why do you feel it should remain in Colorado Springs?
The easiest, quickest answer to that is because our military leaders think that that’s the case. In 2019, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper went into the White House with a recommendation to keep the headquarters here in Colorado Springs and President Trump asked them to go back and do another process and make sure that Alabama and Florida were considered finalists. Shortly after that, we started a political campaign here. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett went into the White House [before Trump left office] and said again, it should stay in Colorado Springs at Peterson Air Force Base. [Trump] said, ‘No, we’re going to go with Alabama.’ So the short answer to why should it stay here is because the military leaders have said that is the best thing for the mission of U.S. Space Command — to keep it at Peterson Air Force Base.
Do you believe President Biden will consider allowing U.S. Space Command to remain here?
I think he will. I think there is a lot of upside for President Biden to suspend that decision of President Trump’s. We’re not asking President Biden to make a political decision. We’re asking him to take the politics out of the decision and let the military leaders decide where it belongs. In terms of the likelihood of President Biden doing this, you know our two Democratic senators and Gov. [Jared] Polis are so engaged on this issue. I know they have already reached out to the Biden Administration. I think that Democratic connection is going to help very much with the current administration.
What do you see as your greatest accomplishments?
I’m confident that, in a few months, we’re going to add keeping U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs. That will be the most significant accomplishment in the future. I did a lot of exciting things in the Air Force. Commanding the group at Peterson Air Force Base was certainly a highlight. Several of the squadrons that were under my command were named best squadron in Air Force Space Command. One squadron, the 21st Force Support Squadron, was the best force support squadron in the entire Air Force. A communications squadron that I commanded in California was named the best communications squadron by Air Mobility Command. Those were certainly very exciting. I commanded a squadron in Afghanistan and brought everybody home safely. We didn’t have an ‘outside the wire’ mission — but still, dangerous place. The air base took more rocket attacks during that year than they ever had previously. So that’s certainly something that I’m very proud of.
How long have you lived in the Springs?
I’ve currently been in Colorado Springs since May of 2014. I was previously in Colorado Springs with Air Force assignments from 1997 to 2002. Two of my three kids were born here in the Springs. I was in Washington, D.C., working as a senior military adviser at the State Department when I got notice that I’d been selected to come command at Peterson Air Force Base. I went home and made the surprise announcement to the family. There were cheers all around. The kids were all excited. What a great celebration it was for the whole family to know that we were coming back to Colorado Springs.
What do you enjoy about living in the Springs?
It’s the people that are here. The culture that’s here in Colorado Springs — it’s just such a welcoming community. There are so many people here that have got that military experience, they’re veterans, or they’ve got family and friends who are veterans. It’s the culture of the people here and then, of course, the natural beauty and the outdoors. Even though Colorado Springs isn’t a small town, it very much has that small town feel to it. But yet within an hour’s drive, you’ve got all the things that you could want from a big city — the professional sports, the museums — when you combine all of that, what a fantastic place to raise a family.