The North American Aerospace Defense Command wrapped up its 60th anniversary celebrations with Canadian aerial demonstrations and speeches by top U.S. and Canadian brass Saturday in Colorado Springs.
A crowd of U.S. and Canadian military commanders and government officials - including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner - gathered at Peterson Air Force Base to commemorate the milestone.
"This was no small achievement, two nations agreeing to share sovereignty," said Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command. "This cooperation is as strong today as it was then."
American and Canadian officials announced the establishment of NORAD on May 12, 1958, formalizing the bilateral air defense arrangement of the North American continent.
NORAD has been defending North American airspace ever since.
"In fact, just yesterday, we had two F-22s intercept two Bear Hotels of Russia," said Robinson, referring to an intercept of two Russian TU-95 "Bear" bombers in international airspace off the Alaskan coast by U.S. stealth fighters Friday.
"Yesterday was a classic NORAD day," Robinson said.
Robinson and other commanders emphasized how the NORAD mission has evolved over the years.
"We spend a lot of energy, a lot of military energy, a lot of blood and treasure offshore away from our homeland to try to keep the world safe and to try to keep that which is not safe from coming here," said Gen. Jonathan Vance, the Canadian chief of the defense staff.
As the speeches concluded, the Canadian Snowbirds military aerial demonstration team flew overhead - 10 CT-114s flying in intricate formations as the pilots performed several flyovers of the ceremony.
"Being able to guard both nations is a privilege," said Canadian Lt. Col. Mike French, the commander of the Snowbirds. Before assuming command of the demonstration team, he served with NORAD for five years.
Watching the Snowbirds perform is what inspired French to become a pilot, he said. And inspiring the next generation of pilots is why he continues to fly.
"I'll stop doing it when it starts to feel like work," French said.
But intercepting Russian bombers and inspiring the next generation of pilots is just a fraction of the responsibilities faced by Americans and Canadians with NORAD.
"You assess hundreds of missile launches every year. The tactical actions you take to protect our air space on any given day happen about every six hours," said Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "To tens of thousands of pieces of space debris that you track and help our commercial and military partners navigate in space, Colorado Springs does kind of look like the center of the universe."