The following is a weekly column from Mayor Patrick Collins.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Cheyenne Frontier Days is finished for another year. Judy and I are tired but so proud of our city and the team at CFD who makes this event happen. I can’t say it often enough, but our volunteers are amazing! When you are mayor, you get to see a bit of the behind-the-scenes and realize the show would not happen without this dedicated bunch of folks. I found another group that also amazes me. Every day Judy and I rode in a wagon for parades and grand entries before the start of the rodeo. The folks driving the wagons come from all over the country. They bring their team and volunteer for 10 days to drive and show off our carriages. I also spent time thanking our sponsors each day. We have thousands of volunteers, but without the sponsors, we would not have a rodeo to put on. One sponsor told me he took off from Atlanta and landed in America; I can’t think of a higher compliment to pay the City of Cheyenne.
I flew from Cheyenne to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Monday morning. As a Global Strike Civic Leader, we get together a few times throughout the year to be educated on the missions of our Air Force. My dad worked at this base over 60 years ago, so it was special to make this trip.
Our day started at SpaceX Launch Complex Four. It was funny that I met two astronauts at CFD. Bob Behnken flew twice on the Space Shuttle and was on the first crew mission on a SpaceX Dragon Capsule. During our SpaceX brief, Bob’s smiling picture was one of the first slides presented. His wife, Megan, made two trips into space: once on the Space Shuttle and once on a SpaceX rocket. She spent six months on the Space Station and traveled 84 million miles during her time. Forty-eight hours later I’m in California and touring a SpaceX facility. They had two of the rocket’s first stages in the building, that had seen many trips to space and landed to be reused. We learned the first stage with all engines is around 60 percent of the cost of the rocket, so reusing them saves millions of dollars. I had no idea how common launches are today. They have flown 171 successful missions since its founding in 2002. This year the goal is more than 50. We learned the private space program is an essential partner to NASA and our military. SpaceX has been selected by NASA to take us back to the moon and they have a target date of 2025 to get there. SpaceX is not the only private space company at Vandenberg; Firefly Aerospace had a rocket on the pad ready to launch while we were there.
Next, we visited the 576th Test Flight Squadron. The Air Force regularly pulls a Minute Man III missile from a silo and transports it intact to Vandenberg AFB, where it is launched to verify its reliability, accuracy, and performance. It’s intact, but without the warhead. It is critical that we prove our capabilities to ourselves, our allies, and just as importantly, our adversaries. We met with the missileers from Montana who were there to manage the launch. It is very interesting to go down into the capsule where they are on alert just like our missileers do here at F.E. Warren. We learned about the missile system that was put on alert in 1970 and how it flew 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Island test range. It is hard to believe the warhead flies at 15,000 mph, or Mach 23, and lands so accurately.
Next, we toured the 532nd Training Squadron. This is where all the missile maintenance professionals who work in our missile field are trained. I have met many maintenance folks over the years, so seeing where they learned the trade was fun. I also met a young staff sergeant who was stationed in Cheyenne for the past seven years and now teaches recruits his line of work. In our Air Force, young men and women aged in their late teens and early 20s are given the responsibility for moving and maintaining our ICBM force. They are very impressive. I loved their confidence and excitement for the work.
Wednesday morning, we got a treat: a flight on a KC135 to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. This was my first flight on a tanker, and it was a great learning experience. Global Strike is made up of the 20th Air Force and the 8th Air Force. The 20th is primarily the ICBM bases or 1/3 of our triad. The 8th is primarily our bomber force or another 1/3 of our triad. The bombers rely on gas to fly their missions and introducing us to the tanker fleet was an education on how our bombers can fly all over the globe without having to land and refuel. It is an amazing process and the team that fuels our bombers does it so well. Our plane was built in 1957 and looked brand new. It can hold 200,000 pounds of fuel and up to 60 passengers or freight. Laying on your stomach in the tail of the plane is how the bomb operator fills planes needing fuel. I laid in the back and froze. What a view, though.
We landed in Illinois at Scott AFB and the contrast with Vandenberg could not be more drastic. Vandenberg is mostly native plants and so dang dry. Scott is more of a city feel and is so dang green. As we drove around the area, you could see 10’ tall dryland corn and soybean fields of green. What a difference!
They chose Scott AFB because it is the headquarters of the U.S. Transportation Command and the headquarters of Air Mobility Command. It has the most officers in the rank of general except for the Pentagon. The U.S. Transcom moves people and cargo for our military worldwide via air, sea, and land. No military unit can survive without its lifeline of supplies. Air Mobility Command is the air arm of this program. They have planes take off every 4.3 minutes every day, 24/7/365. They fly the C130, C17, and C5m for cargo, and KC135, KC10, and KC46 for tanker operations. It became apparent that this mission is so much more complicated than I could have ever imagined. Scheduling planes with needed missions and taking off every 4.3 minutes is mind-boggling. We met the teams doing the work, but I still don’t know how they pulled it off.
Our day started with a brief from USTRANSCOM, then a SDDC mission brief, followed by an AMC brief. We met the team at the 618th Air Operations Center, followed by the 932nd Air Lift Wing, then off to the 126th Air Refueling Wing, and lastly the host 375th Air Mobility Wing. It was topical that the 932nd owns the C40 airplanes that Speaker of the House Pelosi used to fly to Taiwan this week. I think one of my favorite tours was the Air Evac squadron that brings our wounded warriors home to their families. It is relevant as our Wyoming Air National Guard C130 flies a similar mission and is part of the AMC command.
I have had many military experiences in the past few years, but I always leave impressed by the quality and dedication of the men and women choosing to serve our country. Thank you for your service, and thanks to the families who sacrifice for our benefit.