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U.S., Canadian military brass give NORAD a pat on the back at anniversary celebration

By: Tony Peck
May 13, 2018 Updated: May 13, 2018 at 7:18 am
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Travis Morehen of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who serves as the Deputy Chief of the NORAD-USNORTHCOM Command Center, stands behind a screen that shows a missile launch replay that the Alternate Command Center tracked on Wednesday at the NORAD Alternate Command Center on Thursday May 10, 2018 in Colorado Springs. The media was given a tour of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Complex in celebration of NORAD's 60th Anniversary. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

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."

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN COMPLEX
One of the two 23-ton blast doors between the main tunnel and the office buildings complex at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Complex on Thursday May 10, 2018 in Colorado Springs. 

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.

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN COMPLEX
One of the buses that employees have to take exits the North tunnel as there are 15 buildings inside the mountain and those who work there don't just walk inside to their offices, they have to take the bus on Thursday May 10, 2018 in Colorado Springs. 

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.

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN COMPLEX
Fifteen three-story buildings are protected from movement such as an earthquake or explosion, by a system of giant springs that the buildings sit on and flexible pipe connectors to limit the operational effect of movement. 

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."

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