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Working on Cheyenne Mountain was a blast

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Dino Bonaldo, 721st Civil Engineer Squadron director, left, greets Ted Martinez on a recent return visit to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Martinez worked many years at CMAFS, including a couple of years packing dynamite and blasting the mountain to make way for the facility that would go fully operational in April 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Dino Bonaldo, 721st Civil Engineer Squadron director, left, greets Ted Martinez on a recent return visit to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Martinez worked many years at CMAFS, including a couple of years packing dynamite and blasting the mountain to make way for the facility that would go fully operational in April 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- In 1963, Ted Martinez went to work on Cheyenne Mountain and had a blast. Literally. You see, Martinez was a dynamite packer for Utah Construction & Mining Company, the outfit that blasted one of the world's most unique military installations from solid Pikes Peak granite.

Martinez worked on America's Fortress when it was a simple mountain peak until right before it became fully operational in 1966, then again in 1990 until his retirement in 2014. His experience at both ends of Cheyenne Mountain Air Station's 50 years of service provide a unique view of the facility.

Martinez came to work on the North American Aerospace Defense Command Operations Center as a dynamite packer and hard rock miner. He learned those trades working with Brodhead Coal Company in his hometown of Aguilar, Colorado.

"That's where I learned to blast," Martinez said. Because of his youth, when he came to the NORAD project, people had a hard time believing the 19-year-old had so much experience.

Early on, in the absence of nearby housing, workers on the project were sequestered on site living in tents in a work camp. Jobs on the mountain were dangerous and Martinez remembered a few coworkers who lost their lives during the work. For the first year or so, when he was a dynamite packer, his was one of the more dangerous jobs of all. Working midnight to 4 a.m. shifts, after holes were drilled in the rock, Martinez' job was to pack them with dynamite and blasting caps. One of his coworkers had an explosion go off prematurely causing the loss of an eye, Martinez said.

"When a blast went off it would (sometimes) blow the lights down," he said. "So we would have to stay put until the electricians got there. Waiting for the blasts was edgy."

After about a year, he switched from dynamite packing to being a miner, but danger still lingered. He told of a time a jackhammer broke loose and injured his foot.

"It was a 90 pound jackhammer and I only weighed about 120 pounds," Martinez said. "It broke loose and went through my foot, I'm lucky it didn't hit any bones."

In 1965, Martinez took a break from the mountain. He was drafted to go to Vietnam, so he decided to join the Air Force. However, the Air Force didn't accept Martinez because he was too short, a trait that would eventually serve him back at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. The Navy accepted him, however, and he enlisted, serving four years learning welding and metallurgy along the way.

Following his service commitment, Martinez had jobs at the United States Air Force Academy and Peterson Air Force Base before making his return to CMAFS in 1990 and using the skills he picked up to continue his relationship with the site. After a one day retirement from government employment in 2002, Martinez began fulfilling a new role as a communications contractor running cable through the vast complex. The height that kept him out of the Air Force served him well stringing cable in small spaces.

Reflecting on the years helping to carve America's Fortress out of sheer rock, Martinez had one word to describe his thoughts.

"Overwhelming. I think it was overwhelming, really," he said.

What he enjoyed most were the challenges of doing things not done before and adapting ways to complete those unique tasks. Martinez found he could learn a lot from the people around him, all of them talented in some way.

"I learned that everything is possible and there is talent all around you," he said.
His contribution in making the facility what it is today is not overlooked. Dino Bonaldo, 721st Civil Engineer Squadron director, is well aware of what the work done over the decades means to today's CMAFS.

"The work he did got this place to where it is now," Bonaldo said.

Going through the era of massive computers to laptops, and from pay phones and pagers to cell phones, is comparable to seeing the mountain continue to transform over the years, said Martinez. Changes that used to be made with manpower are now handled with technology. He said adapting and not standing in the way of progress is important.

"You've got one life to live and I've spent most of mine here," he said. "I've seen the changes and I've met a lot of good people. I've slept good at night knowing that I worked hard."

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