In his last days atop Space Command, Gen. John Hyten is scrambling.
His office at Peterson Air Force Base is cleaned out and he's packed up for his next job leading U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska. But the general who brought the most significant changes for the daily life of Space Command airmen isn't quite done.
"There's always lots left to do," said Hyten. "You have mixed emotions about things not quite done."
What has gotten done in Hyten's time at Space Command includes putting satellite crews on a wartime footing, by making sure squadrons in Colorado Springs and around the globe have rigorous training programs and more experienced airmen at the controls. He's also led the command through the most stringent set of war games seen there since the Cold War while reorganizing the command's computer warfare arm so leaders can better defend American networks while preparing to use the internet as a battlefield.
"It's more than culture," said Hyten. "I focused on the need to establish a warfighting mindset."
It almost didn't play out this way. A Harvard graduate, Hyten figured he would spend a few years in the Air Force before taking his Ivy League degree to a high-paying civilian job. But his bride, Laura, asked him a simple question: "Why are you going to quit?"
Hyten saw her logic and stayed in uniform for the past 35 years.
"Why would I give up something I love just to chase a dollar?" he asked.
Hyten was promoted to vice commander of Space Command in 2012, and took the top post in 2014.
One of his biggest jobs has been to demystify the command's role in America's military. While the command uses satellites and high-tech computers to deliver navigation information, communications and intelligence for battlefield commanders, Hyten likes to talk about ensuring the bombs hit targets, battles kick off on time and computer networks used to support the fight are secure.
"When you talk about the missions you do, you take a lot of the mystery away," he said.
He's fought to remove the differences between Space Command troops and their counterparts across the Air Force.
"It actually bugs me now when people say I'm a space guy or a cyber guy," he said.
Hyten led the command during a time of growing threats in orbit and in cyberspace. Russia, China and lesser powers like Iran have shown the potential to threaten American satellites, so Hyten's team examined how America should react if battle extended to space.
In computer warfare, threats have grown exponentially as rivals have turned to hacking as a cheap way to overcome America's vast technical advantages.
"I see the light bulbs going on in space and cyberspace," Hyten said, noting that American leaders are increasingly aware of the dangers.
Many of those dangers will follow Hyten to Strategic Command, which overseas space, cyberspace, missile defense and America's nuclear arsenal.
Strategic Command's biggest job is to convince the rest of the world that using nukes is a bad idea. It's called deterrence - having your enemies know the consequences of using nuclear arms.
"We want to be able to deter any adversary," he said.
Getting ready for the new job has meant a lot of work for Hyten.
"I've been going to school pretty hard," he said.
It will be a daunting task.
"The world is a dangerous place right now," he said.
During a Tuesday ceremony, Hyten will hand off Space Command to Gen. Jay Raymond, who previously led the 21st Space Wing in Colorado Springs.
"We'll get to welcome one of the greatest airmen," he said.
And Hyten will stay humble. The native of Huntsville, Ala., said he never planned to rise this high in the military.
"I'm just a blind kid from Alabama," the bespectacled four-star said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240