August 29, 2013 Updated: August 29, 2013 at 12:25 pm
It was an odd scene in Colorado Springs Thursday as a stern-faced major general of the Russian air force tried to force a smile as he was flanked by his American and Canadian counterparts.
Escalating tensions over Syria's use of chemical weapons on civilians had the Russian and American navies facing off in the Mediterranean and sparked an increasingly shrill war of words between Washington and the Kremlin as America ponders military action.
Maj. Gen. Dmitry Viktorovich Gomenkov and other Russian officers were at Peterson Air Force Base's North American Aerospace Defense Command at the conclusion of an air defense exercise over the Bering Sea that involved American, Canadian and Russian forces working together to prevent a 9/11-style terrorist strike.
Gomenkov said Russia's escalating tensions with the west hadn't come up in the weeklong exercise.
"I can only say the issues you raised have never been raised (during the exercise)," the slim, dour general said.
Gomenkov said military cooperation could accomplish what diplomats aren't able to as a gulf grows between the U.S. and Russia.
"This can fill the gap," he said.
Military sources won't talk on the record about what an attack on Syria might involve, but one source said the building behind Gomenkov was a hive of activity as he spoke.
U.S. Northern Command at Peterson is responsible for preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and defending American airspace.
One officer said the command was preparing for the "secondary and tertiary" impacts of an attack on Syria, which could respond with terrorism.
If a U.S. attack on Syria is unleashed, Colorado Springs troops will play key roles.
Peterson's Air Force Space Command provides space-based communication and navigation that would be critical to any strike.
The command's 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base controls the Global Position System, which is critical for guiding aircraft and bombs. The wing also runs communication satellites, which have traditional uses and are increasingly important in the realm of drones.
At Peterson, Space Command's 21st Space Wing is on 24-hour alert for missile warning. That's key in dealing with Syria and its allies, Russia and Iran.
Syria has Scud missiles, which could target American and British bases in the region and Israel.
If long-range missiles are launched against the U.S., the 100th Missile Defense Brigade in Colorado Springs would be ordered to shoot them down. The brigade has interceptors based in Alaska and California that can take out enemy warheads in space.
If ground forces are needed, Fort Carson soldiers now in Kuwait could be the first to get the call.
The post's 1st Brigade Combat Team has been working on training missions with Arab allies around the Persian Gulf.
The 3,800-soldier unit packs a punch with M-1 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 155 mm self-propelled artillery.
After a strike, forces in the Pikes Peak region will be on high alert for retaliation.
Russia and Iran have threatened that an attack will bring consequences.
NORAD, days after a successful training exercise with Russian forces, will be on the watch for them.
Gomenkov, though, said Russia reached accord with its western counterparts on at least one thing during the exercise.
"We agreed that all tasks we are performing against terrorism are important," he said.