Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck will continue to develop the next generation of leaders as the Pikes Peak region’s newest top general, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday.

During consecutive ceremonies that drew top defense leaders from Washington and Canada to Peterson Air Force Base, VanHerck, 57, assumed simultaneous command of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command from Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy. Additionally, Army Gen. James Dickinson assumed command of U.S. Space Command from U.S. Space Force Chief of Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond.

“Given his well-known reputation for taking care of his people and developing the next generation of leaders, I know Gen. VanHerck will continue to do so while fostering a culture of ethical behavior and upholding the core values that define and drive the United States armed forces,” Esper said.

VanHerck proved his promise early in his diverse career as an aviator who has commanded a weapons squadron, trained operations group and two bomb wings in addition to his command of the Air Force Warfare Center, Esper said. Prior to his selection as commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, VanHerck served as director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described VanHerck as a man of “tremendous confidence and incredible character” and the “most singular competent individual” to take the helm of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command.

“I know that is an even greater responsibility to be entrusted with our nation’s most sacred mission: defense of the homeland,” said VanHerck, who was confirmed by the Senate last week.

VanHerck said his top priority as commander is homeland defense.

“Potential adversaries continue to map and challenge us across all domains,” he said, referring to air, land, sea, cyberspace and space. “Homeland defense really starts abroad, so having crucial relationships with other combatant commanders in the services is very important.”

Following VanHerck’s appointment to the command, O’Shaughnessy retired in a formal ceremony after serving 34 years in the Air Force. He was praised for his leadership of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command.

Among other accomplishments, Esper commended O’Shaughnessy for calling attention to changing and critical technologies and identifying gaps in the command’s readiness to defend and America and Canada. Esper also praised O’Shaughnessy for overseeing the modernization of the Strategic Home and Integrated Ecosystem for Layered Defense, which aims to establish awareness of threats in all domains.

“Gen. O’Shaugnessy has expertly led (U.S. Northern Command) and NORAD in executing a No Fail Mission, despite countless other challenges demanding his attention. In doing so, he has prepared the men and women of these commands to deter and defeat the threats of tomorrow,” Esper said.

In a second change of command that afternoon — the first for the U.S. Space Command since Raymond assumed that duty last August — Dickinson assumed leadership of the Department of Defense’s newest of 11 unified commands.

A native of Estes Park, Dickinson most recently served nine months as U.S. Space Command’s deputy commander. He also previously served as commander of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense.

In a brief speech, Esper touched on the modern world’s reliance on “unfettered access in, from and to space” in everyday life, from GPS navigation to cellphones and ATMs. Stressing the importance of Space Command to protect citizens from threats, he cited anti-satellite missiles developed by China and Russia to weaponize space.

“They have turned a once peaceful arena into a warfighting domain. The U.S. must be able to compete and win across all domains,” Esper said.

“Gen. Dickinson, as you take command, I’d like you to know that we have the utmost confidence in your abilities. The leadership acumen and foresight you’ve demonstrated will serve you well.”

Raymond will retain his position as the first Chief of Space Operations for the Space Force. Previously, Raymond was the commander of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base.

“Your leadership (of) Space Command and as U.S. Space Force chief of Space Operations has been nothing short of magnificent as you lead the Department of Defense space efforts at an absolutely critical time to our nation. It’s literally historic,” O’Shaugnessy told Raymond Thursday.

“And congrats to (Dickinson), who very shortly will build on the strong foundation that Jay Raymond has left to you. I know you’re going to go bring that team to even greater heights.”


Breeanna Jent covers El Paso County and the state of Colorado. She previously worked as the editorial assistant for the Pikes Peak Newspapers and joined their sister paper, The Gazette, in 2020.

Load comments