An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

HomeNewsroomNewsArticle Display

Article - Article View

Feels like the first time: 50 years sure changes a mountain

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Retired Master Sgt. Robert Thibault reflects on his time at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station when the facility first became operational in April 1966. He recently visited CMAFS in honor of the facility’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration of becoming fully operational. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Retired Master Sgt. Robert Thibault reflects on his time at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station when the facility first became operational in April 1966. He recently visited CMAFS in honor of the facility’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration of becoming fully operational. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- For retired Master Sgt. Robert Thibault, many things remained the same during his 21 years of Air Force service. For example he never worked on an Air Force base, never worked in a room with windows, and spent 15 years underground. But there is one thing from his long career that has undergone a near total transformation: Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.

His years at CMAFS left Thibault with plenty of memories. A few weeks after the site was operational, the area experienced heavy rainfall. Water flowed into the portals and personnel could not leave, so an alternate strategy was devised.

"We got the aluminum boat from the reservoir to get the shift out that time," he said. He also remembers everyone wearing yellow hard hats inside because there were no safety nets on the cavern's ceiling.

Thibault, who served in the Air Force from 1956 until retirement in 1977, spent eight years over two assignments inside the CMAFS complex, including the first four years it was fully operational. Following a couple of return visits in the past year, the changes of half a decade are what most capture his attention.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing but a small guard shack where you surrendered your ID to go inside... none of this was here," Thibault said. "The command post was completely different. That area was completely changed. I would not have known where I was. I was shocked, to be honest."

In those early days of the facility, changes were a constant reality of life. Between assignments on The Mountain he said the command post area changed several times and was expanded. Thibault recalled only a handful of people worked in the area initially, including a Navy officer, an Army communications expert, an Air Force officer and non-commissioned officer, and an officer from the Canadian military.

Thibault was a control and wing system supervisor who worked with radar his entire career. His familiarity with working in dark places served him well prior to CMAFS going fully operational. During the first few months he was stationed at the site, Thibault and the other "mountain men" were located in the basement of Memorial Hospital in downtown Colorado Springs. When the complex went live, personnel began reporting to the mountain.

Another early memory features the Mountain's ominous blast doors. In those days when personnel entered the area between the doors, both sets were closed, then one would open to let them through. On one occasion Thibault and about 20 other people preparing to go home passed through one set of doors and waited while they closed, and they waited, and waited.

"They couldn't open the doors when we got between them. We couldn't get out," he said. "There was a Canadian general with us and he was furious. I do not recall how they finally opened the doors."

Another recollection involved Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Curtis Lemay. A malfunction of some type caused a large screen monitoring missiles to go blank, a frightening prospect at the height of the Cold War. Within about 15 minutes Thibault said every general in the Colorado Springs area was in the command post trying to figure things out. When the phone rang, Thibault answered to hear a demand to talk to the CMAFS commander-in-chief. Thibault replied that the CINC was busy, but when the voice on the other end of the line identified himself as Lemay and said he wanted to talk to the commander immediately, Thibault swiftly complied.

"As a tech we had to take some UFO calls too," Thibault said. "We had some good times."

Being assigned to CMAFS was a special posting. Thibault, who was posted in the South China Sea at the time, said when word got out about his assignment there, friends called him and asked how he got the job.

"I felt very, very important," Thibault said. "I felt very privileged to be assigned there when you consider all the radar sites we have. When I got the assignment I couldn't believe it."
Referring to the upcoming CMAFS 50th anniversary celebration, Thibault became nostalgic.

"I cannot believe the time went by so fast. I sit back and I think (about) 50 years," he said. "I think about it a lot because it's important (for the facility) to be here."

Unlike the mountain facility, the pride of the men, like Thibault, who served there has not changed. It remains evident in their words and in their eyes as they gaze upon the famous north portal entry into America's Fortress.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui