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Birthday reunion at CMAFS
Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Mutu (front row center with black ball cap), gathers with friends and family for a surprise 90th birthday April 4 on Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station by 22 former colleagues and family members. The group, which worked together in the communication squadron, shared stories of the "good old days," toured the mountain and noted some of the remarkable changes to their former workstation. In 1979, carrying on family tradition, Bob Mutu (far left), Mr. Mutu’s son, went to work at CMAFS in the electric shop, where he still works as a DOD employee. Mr. Mutu had a long distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force, but said some of his fondest memories were of working in a special place like CMAFS. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Daniel Taylor)
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Happy birthday, John

Posted 4/11/2011   Updated 4/11/2011 Email story   Print story


by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer

4/11/2011 - CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- It was a sunny day and Bob Mutu told his dad John they should go for a ride. They ended up on the curvy NORAD Road headed up to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs.

"Well, what are we doing up here?" asked John Mutu. He hadn't been up on CMAFS in more than 30 years.

Then, he saw the sign: "Happy 90th Birthday John."

Twenty-two of Mr. Mutu's former CMAFS colleagues and family members surprised him for his birthday April 4.

"Oh boy," he said as he shook hands and hugged them. "My gosh, didn't we have fun in that office."

Former colleague Tom Kendle, who now lives in Texas, organized the surprise birthday and tour of CMAFS for Mr. Mutu and their coworkers who had worked on CMAFS, active duty and civilian, in the 1970s. Mr. Kendle recently came across an old recall roster from the days when he worked on the mountain and it got him wondering where all his old pals were now.

Once he started calling folks, they were eager to visit their old haunt.

"I drove up that (NORAD) road for 25 years," recalled Charles Stoops, a retired DOD engineer who helped install large group display screens. Until this month, he had not driven up to CMAFS in 24 years, since his retirement.

The CMAFS underground bunker had already been open a decade by the time Mr. Mutu and his colleagues worked there. They were familiar with the 15 buildings inside, the unique 115,000 rock bolts that reinforce the tunnel structure and the fact that the complex is mounted on 1,319 springs to allow the complex to sway up to 12 inches horizontally in any direction.

Nevertheless, some things had changed since the 1970s. For example, 14 years ago, new houses started being built right up to the CMAFS perimeter; four years ago, the state opened Cheyenne Mountain State Park to the installation's south. Today the mountain remains at the center of a worldwide network of satellites, radars and sensors that provides early warning of any missile, air or space threat to North America.

In the 1990s, CMAFS used to receive 1,700 visitors a month. After Sept. 11, 2001, however, the mountain was closed to visitors. It has only been recently that tours have been allowed for special groups.

Col. Russell Wilson, 721st Mission Support Group commander at CMAFS, welcomed the group and said, "We are thrilled to have a return on our investment." He told the group they were all a vital part of the mission and presented the birthday boy his commander's coin.

Nikki Britton, Mr. Mutu's daughter, said her dad always talked fondly of his work experience on CMAFS.

"There is something special about being a part of this," she said.

She remembers touring CMAFS with her dad when she was 12-years-old.

"It meant a lot to him to show this to me," she said. "I'm so thrilled for him to be able to go back into the mountain now."

In 1979, carrying on family tradition, Bob Mutu, Mr. Mutu's son, went to work at CMAFS in the electric shop, where he still works as a DOD employee.

"Between us, we have a third of a century on the mountain," Bob Mutu said.

Mr. Mutu, a retired Air Force master sergeant, started his 27-year career in the military driving a tank. Then, he was a B-25 tail gunner in World War II and an A-26 gunner in the Korean War. When he got tired of being shot at, he joined the U.S. Air Force Band, said Bob Mutu. Mr. Mutu was the first director of the USAFA drum and bugle corps and then retired in 1968.

"And then he couldn't stay out of it," said Toby Mutu, his wife of 64 years. "So, he joined civil service."

Mr. Mutu trained in computers and went to work in the communication squadron on CMAFS. That's when he met Jeff Tallman, who was an airman first class on his first duty station in 1975.

"I was 18 and looked like I was 12 and John took me under his wing," Mr. Tallman said. "He talked to me about how to live, vote, do all the right things. I didn't always do the right thing, but I never forgot."

Mr. Tallman, who now lives in Ohio, left CMAFS in 1980 for his next duty station. When he heard about the birthday party he said he wouldn't have missed it.

"We were so tight," Mr. Tallman said.

As the group walked through the 25-ton blast doors into the mountain complex, which is housed 2,000 feet inside the granite mountain, they remembered their daily treks inside.

"It feels like yesterday," Mr. Tallman said. This time, they entered the mountain as visitors and could not go into workstations, but only stand outside the locked doors of where they once reported for duty.

Still, "It is exciting to come up here and take a tour," Mr. Mutu said.

At the end of the tour, the group headed to a nearby watering hole for some more reminiscing.

"From what we experienced today, it was one of our best times ever on and in Cheyenne Mountain," Mr. Kendle said. "Not sure if you noticed, but I think I saw grown men tear up."

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