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Job Takes Peterson Air Force Base Wing Commander Around the Globe

Col. Douglas Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander (right) and Col. Eric Dorminey, 21st Space Wing vice commander (left), lead the first leg of the POWMIA 24-hour run at Peterson AFB Sept. 17, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dennis Howk)
Col. Douglas Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander (right) and Col. Eric Dorminey, 21st Space Wing vice commander (left), lead the first leg of the POWMIA 24-hour run at Peterson AFB Sept. 17, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dennis Howk)

Col. Douglas Schiess will rack up even more frequent flier miles in 2016 as he travels to some to the most remote spots on the planet as boss of the 21st Space Wing.

Schiess, who took the reins of the wing last year, hopes to have visited all of the far-flung detachments under his command by June. He's been to Greenland. Now he's got to head to Diego Garcia, a small island in the southern Indian Ocean and visit another outpost in the Australian outback.

"We're on track to visit all the sites," he said in his office at Peterson Air Force Base.

The wing Schiess leads commands the Department of Defense's most remote units, which track objects in orbit around the planet and provide missile warning to American leaders. That work requires radars and telescopes belting the planet to keep an eye on the sky. It has detachments in eight nations.

The latest addition is a radar station in Australia to track satellites in the southern latitudes. The wing is also adding a radar system outside Fairbanks, Alaska, to detect incoming missiles for adversaries including North Korea.

The wing, which has 4,300 airmen and civilian workers, is also working to upgrade and maintain Cold-War-era radar sets.

"The biggest thing we've been working is these radars are 50-some years old," Schiess said.

The wing is catching up on maintenance of its systems after three years of tight budgets led to delays. One key concern, Schiess said, is ensuring radars and the power grids that feed them are immune to electromagnetic pulse attacks. Those attacks, which can be generated by nuclear or electronic weapons, overload electrical grids and can fry circuits.

Schiess said another concern is tracking down parts for the elderly radars. Budget pressures are easing these days, but Schiess said he's still trying to conserve cash.

One plan is working with local governments on some purchasing. A major expense for the wing is keeping Peterson roads and runways clear of snow and ice, so Schiess is examining ways to work with local entities to buy de-icer in bulk so the Air Force and local taxpayers get a better price.

"These are the kinds of things that are going to happen," he said.

To tackle the challenges the wing faces, Schiess said his biggest weapon is the brain power of his troops.

"One of the things we're doing is energizing younger folks to come up with new ideas," he said.

And, while he's traveling the globe, Scheiss said he's planting roots in Colorado Springs.

"I don't think I have been to a better community for the military," he said.

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