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Secretary of Air Force makes historic visit to Colorado Air National Guard Airmen

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Capt. Benjamin Kimball, 140th Wing Public Affairs

AURORA, CO -- The 26th Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Frank Kendall made an historic visit to the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard at Buckley Space Force Base, Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 3, 2023. Kendall met with Buckley Airmen and Guardians, Governor Jared Polis, and toured 140th Wing facilities and the flight line. Kendall also met with COANG space professionals.
“The wing’s fighters and space assets are essential to National Defense Strategy and Homeland Defense,” said 140th Wing Commander U.S. Air Force Col. Jeremiah “Weed” Tucker. “We need to modernize our fighters and align our space professionals with the U.S. Space Force to ensure our continued relevance.”

Kendall’s discussion topics included the future of the flying mission of the COANG and a conceptual Space National Guard. COANG warriors perform vital space missions from Colorado and have done so for nearly three decades. The COANG has some of the most experienced fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force.

Governor Polis emphasized the importance of establishing a Space National Guard and a modernized fighter mission, specifically transitioning to the F-35, to ensure the longevity of the mission and the retention of Airmen who are critical to the defense of the nation and Colorado. In addition, Governor Polis said the COANG has ready access to a diverse and resident aerospace talent pool in Colorado.

After Kendall had lunch with 140th Airmen, Assistant Adjutant General, Air U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. D. Micah “Zeus” Fesler provided Kendall a briefing highlighting how the COANG has served as a Combat USAF model wing and pioneered the Agile Combat Employment of teams to austere locations in the far northern reaches of Canada and Greenland.  Fesler said the wing also supported allied nations and partners during overseas operations and training. 

“Colorado Guardsmen are at the forefront of testing and implementing innovative solutions that provide our state and nation with tools they need to meet tomorrow’s challenges,” Fesler said.

Fesler also emphasized how the ANG provides a unique opportunity for Citizen-Airmen in related and adjacent fields to add expertise and insight not only to National Guard missions but to their full-time jobs as well.  

The debate around establishing a Space National Guard following the inception of the USSF in 2019 has been ongoing. COANG units such as the 233rd Space Group, Greeley Air National Guard Station, Greeley, Colorado, and the 138th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron, Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado, continue to bring a robust and dynamic set of skills to the table, leveraging their civilian occupations, contributing in a manner that other components cannot match.
ANG space units such as these defend our nation on behalf of combatant commanders across various mission areas: missile warning; space domain awareness; satellite command and control; military satellite communications; space electromagnetic warfare operations; space test and training; analysis of space intelligence. 

An integrated Space National Guard will align efforts under one service, reduce bureaucracy, enable common space warfighter culture, and can be accomplished within existing National Guard resources.

Tucker also provided Kendall a tour of the 140th Wing simulators and the alert F-16 Vipers that have supported North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Aerospace Control Alert mission, since Sept. 11, 2001, guarding America’s skies from airborne threats from a central U.S. location. 

The tour highlighted the “regional simulator” concept, emphasizing high-end, realistic training at a cost-savings to the taxpayer, and the highly capable F-16 that provides advanced capability in a fourth-generation fighter.     

“Our dedicated Airmen stand trained and ready to answer the nation’s call 24/7/365,” Tucker said.

Kendall experienced the 140th Wing’s innovations in support of national defense and deterrence, as well as the wing’s potential to rapidly convert to the F-35 aircraft at BSFB. 

With the F-16 approaching the end of its lifespan in 2028, members of the Colorado Congressional Delegation have acknowledged the urgency to replace the F-16 fleet with updated aircraft, namely the F-35. Bills have been introduced in Congress that support the modernization of ANG fighter squadrons, highlighting that the National Defense Strategy’s number one priority is homeland defense. SECAF’s visit highlighted the ANG’s commitment to be “Always Engaged, Always Ready, and Always There.”  
U.S. Air Force Col. Stephanie Figueroa, commander, 233rd Space Group also provided Kendall a tour of the unit’s Mobile Ground Systems. The 233rd is the first ANG space unit.  It operates the nation’s only survivable and endurable, mobile missile warning and nuclear detonation detection capability.  

“Within the past year, our team has been activated multiple times,” Figueroa said. “Because of our robust resident expertise, constant training and diligence, we’re always ready for mission-critical taskings.” 

Kendall’s visit to the 140th marked the first time a USAF Secretary has visited the 140th Wing in nearly three decades. His time spent with Colorado Guardsmen coincided with a pivotal time in the COANG’s 100-year history affecting over 1,600 members. These Airmen continue to support multiple missions including 24/7 aerospace alert and two space missions that include a one-of-a-kind early-warning mobile ground system and an electromagnetic warfare squadron in high demand by combatant commands.