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Keeping North America safe for half a century

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gen. John Hyten, the Air Force Space Command commander, and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner unveil the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony plaque at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. With the nickname "America's Fortress," Cheyenne Mountain AFS is situated beneath 2,000 feet of granite and consists of 15 buildings resting on more than 1,300 enormous steel springs. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gen. John Hyten, the Air Force Space Command commander, and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner unveil the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony plaque at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. With the nickname "America's Fortress," Cheyenne Mountain AFS is situated beneath 2,000 feet of granite and consists of 15 buildings resting on more than 1,300 enormous steel springs. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)

Attendees of the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony pay respect during the U.S. and Canadian national anthems at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. After nearly five years of construction, Cheyenne Mountain AFS was declared fully operational April 20, 1966. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rob Bussard)

Attendees of the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony pay respect during the U.S. and Canadian national anthems at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. After nearly five years of construction, Cheyenne Mountain AFS was declared fully operational April 20, 1966. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rob Bussard)

Soldiers and Stryker vehicles from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., provided support for the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. Since its inception during the Cold War and throughout the war on terrorism, Cheyenne Mountain has remained critical to the defense mission, providing command and control for the nation since 1966. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

Soldiers and Stryker vehicles from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., provided support for the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. Since its inception during the Cold War and throughout the war on terrorism, Cheyenne Mountain has remained critical to the defense mission, providing command and control for the nation since 1966. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

Attendees of the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony tour the north portal tunnel at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. Since its inception during the Cold War and throughout the war on terrorism, Cheyenne Mountain has remained critical to the defense mission, providing command and control for the nation since 1966. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

Attendees of the 50th anniversary rededication ceremony tour the north portal tunnel at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., April 15, 2016. Since its inception during the Cold War and throughout the war on terrorism, Cheyenne Mountain has remained critical to the defense mission, providing command and control for the nation since 1966. Cheyenne Mountain AFS is owned by the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and operated by the 721st Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. (AFNS) -- Wind whipped across the iconic north portal of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station as the governor of Colorado and the U.S. Senate proclaimed April 20 as Cheyenne Mountain Day throughout the state, while a crowd paid homage to “America's Fortress.”

A rededication ceremony marking 50 years being a fully operational facility took place April 15 at Cheyenne Mountain AFS. Among the dignitaries attending the event were Gen. John Hyten, the Air Force Space Command commander, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Colorado Sen. Corey Gardener.

Hyten, who served as mission director at Cheyenne Mountain AFS 1994-96, said there is no feeling like walking into the mountain every day to protect the nation.

"The mountain may have changed, but the pride, passion and dedication (of those who serve there) has not," Hyten said.

He called the men and women who served at the facility American heroes who took part in making history, protecting the country during a critical time.

"It's not just a story of technology, but (it's) a human story," Hyten said.

He also shared the stories of two veterans who were stationed at Cheyenne Mountain AFS when it became fully operational: retired Master Sgt. Robert Thibeaux and retired Staff Sgt. Bill Bunker. Thibeaux was on duty in the command center when the mountain became operational and watched the complex transform and grow. Bunker, who was a member of security forces, manned the gate on that first day and was featured in a photo that became famous around the world.

Hickenlooper said being at Cheyenne Mountain AFS brought to mind the famed Cold War movie “Dr. Strangelove.”

"The reason (Cheyenne Mountain AFS) is featured in movies is because there is nothing like it," Hickenlooper said. "It's a true engineering marvel. I still can't conceive of how they did this."

He acknowledged the impact the military has upon the state's economy, saying it plays a direct role in how the state functions. Cheyenne Mountain AFS in particular is a critical resource among the Colorado's defense entities.

"Cold War threats may have been the driver for Cheyenne Mountain, but 50 years later it is still America's Fortress," Hickenlooper said.

To punctuate the ceremony several military aircraft staged a flyover of the mountain facility including two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 140th Wing at Buckley Air Force Base, as well as two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson. Combat vehicles from the 1st Stryker Brigade, 4th ID were also in attendance to commemorate the event.

"I never thought I would have the honor to stand here," Gardner said, gesturing toward the north portal archway. He referenced letters his father wrote after the end of World War II causing him to think about the work done by men and women who served tirelessly at Cheyenne Mountain AFS protecting the U.S. around the clock.

"From the people around the 50 states who've never got the chance to thank you, thank you," Gardner said. He and fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet co-authored a proclamation in the Senate, recognizing the strategic importance of Cheyenne Mountain AFS, which led to designating April 20 Cheyenne Mountain Day.

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