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Return to a whole different mountain

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Bill Bunker shows part of his Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station memorabilia collection to Chief Master Sgt. Nanette Klingaman, 721st Mission Support Group superintendent and Maj. Kevin B. Lombardo, 721st Security Forces Squadron commander during a recent visit to the facility. Bunker served as an Air Force Policeman when CMAFS went operational and has not been back since his retirement nearly 40 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Bill Bunker shows part of his Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station memorabilia collection to Chief Master Sgt. Nanette Klingaman, 721st Mission Support Group superintendent and Maj. Kevin B. Lombardo, 721st Security Forces Squadron commander during a recent visit to the facility. Bunker served as an Air Force Policeman when CMAFS went operational and has not been back since his retirement nearly 40 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Bill Bunker, who served as an Air Force Policeman at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station when it went operational in 1966, shows off photos from his time stationed at CMAFS during recent visit to The Mountain. Bunker served two stints at the station and had not been back since his retirement almost 40 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. – Bill Bunker, who served as an Air Force Policeman at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station when it went operational in 1966, shows off photos from his time stationed at CMAFS during recent visit to The Mountain. Bunker served two stints at the station and had not been back since his retirement almost 40 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

CHEYENNE MOUNTIAN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- The last time Bill Bunker was at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station crews were blasting a new generator room from the massive slabs of Pikes Peak granite that form the mountain.

"It's night and day, it's altogether different. It's just like a different picture of everything," Bunker said.

Bunker served twice as an Air Force Policeman at CMAFS from 1965-67 and 1968-1970. He retired from the Air Force as a Staff Sergeant in 1971 after 20 years. He was back to tour the facility at the invitation of the 721st Security Forces Squadron prior to its 50th Anniversary in April.

When he was first assigned to Ent Air Force Base/NORAD in downtown Colorado Springs Bunker drove his own vehicle up the mountain for his shifts. His duties included patrol and guard duties, often at the south portal, and other security work.

The tour opened a flood of memories for Bunker. As the visit progressed his peals of laughter were reminiscent of a child at the local playground. And in a sense the enormous cavern in the mountain was Bunker's, and his fellow Air Force policemen's, playground.

"We used to play hide and seek in here for training," he said, noting there is no shortage of places to hide in the mountain.

Another fond memory from his days patrolling the facility was riding the elevator. When the tour group approached the elevator Bunker said he rode it many times during his assignment at CMAFS. Tour guide Master Sgt. Crisanto Quinto, 721st SFS, told him he was going to ride it again.

"Here we go again. Hot dog!" Bunker said.

He claimed to know a lot of secrets and shared some of them with CMAFS personnel.

"When (President) Nixon was here I was on the third floor looking down on his head," Bunker said.

Moving through the inner corridors, Bunker had a memory or story about nearly every room he came across. He mentioned a six-bed dispensary with its own operating room as he entered one office area. When he saw the modernized dining facility he was visibly impressed.

"It used to be a regular military chow hall where you used a metal plate," said Bunker.

He also remembered a power outage and using the escape tunnel to leave work when he was on swing shift. He said a high ranking officer even used the tunnel to experience the route himself. A power outage was also something he experienced while inside the caverns.

Though he was often taken back to an earlier time, Bunker was surprised by what the complex has become. When he was serving at Cheyenne Mountain there were only 11 buildings and now there are 15, the South Portal was on a dirt road and had no light, and the North Portal looked different Bunker said.

"Everything was telephones and two-way radios back then," he said. "But it is still amazing. All the new technology from where it was... it's been 46 years."

At times during the tour it seemed as if the 83-year-old Mountain Man was listening for echoes of his past service in what is one of the most unique and secure facilities in the world. While his footfalls from running the corridors may have faded after a half century, it may be another 50 years before the echoes of his exuberant laughter, elicited by returning to America's Fortress, fade into the damp darkness of Cheyenne Mountain.

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