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Picking a military base in the Pikes Peak region to profile is a tricky business.

There's the biggest: 135,000-acre Fort Carson on the city's south side. The smallest is the 5-acre Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center - an outpost tunneled beneath a half-mile of mountain granite.

The busiest place may be Peterson Air Force Base on the city's east side which houses U.S. Northern Command, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Air Force Space Command and Army Space and Missile Defense Command. There's enough stars on uniform collars at Peterson to populate a mid-sized galaxy.

The most secretive of the area's military bases is Schriever Air Force Base east of the city off Highway 94. There, airmen toil inside a prison-like double fence to run the nation's constellation of military satellites.

But of all the bases none stands out like the Air Force Academy on the city's north side. The academy, home to 4,000 cadets training to earn their lieutenants bars, has everything a normal base possesses: military shops, rifle ranges, an airfield, barracks, chapels - the entire standard-issue kit.

But the academy is more than a base, it's a top Colorado tourist attraction, drawing nearly 1 million visitors every year. Part of the draw is the sweeping landscape it occupies. Situated on 18,500 forested acres, the academy runs from the Eagle Peak on the edge of the Front Range to Interstate 25.

It's home to some of America's most striking architecture, with the soaring spires of the Cadet Chapel earning American Institute of Architect's Twenty-five Year Award, a distinction it shares with structures including the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and New York's Guggenheim Museum.

The academy also draws hoards of sports fans for 27 NCAA teams on campus. The Falcon football team last year earned the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy as the best American military academy on the gridiron.

To visit, head west from exit 156 off Interstate 25. A driver's license check and a brief search at the academy's gate gains you entrance.

Stop by the school's visitor center on its eastern side and hike the half-mile trail for a great view of the campus.


Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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