PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It has only been 34 years since Peterson Field was named Peterson Air Force Base, and since then, no one has ever looked back.
Peterson Air Force Base is home to the 21st Space Wing, where 5,484 active duty military personnel are assigned, including Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and members of all military branches.
And, this mid-sized base, located in east Colorado Springs off U.S. Highway 24, packs a major financial punch to the local economy, as revealed in the recently released Peterson complex economic impact analysis. In fiscal year 2009, Peterson pumped $1.23 billion into the Colorado Springs and El Paso County economy through jobs and spending, including $500 million in construction services, $315 million in military payroll and $185 million in civilian payroll. And, those figures are up from fiscal year 2008.
"Now if you think about the fact that Peterson sits on 1,300 acres, that's about a million dollars per acre of economic impact in the Pikes Peak region," said Col. Stephen N. Whiting, 21st Space Wing commander.
Jobs don't end at the base gates; the base's many space-related missions attract space industries to the Colorado Springs area. Peterson AFB is host to five major mission partners - including North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Space Command, Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Strategic Command and the 302nd Airlift Wing. The Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation estimates that in the next five years, the space industry will have a $4.5 billion impact on the Colorado Springs economy.
Peterson AFB has a long and unique history, tracing its roots to the Colorado Springs Army Air Base, established in 1942 at the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. Back then, personnel were charged with photo reconnaissance training and the Colorado Springs Army Air Base was assigned to the 2d Air Force, headquartered at Fort George Wright, Wash.
In the summer of 1942, 1st Lt. Edward J. Peterson, operations officer for the 14th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron and a native of Colorado, crashed while attempting to take off from the airfield when the left engine of his twin engine F-4 failed. A base fire department crew rescued Lieutenant Peterson from the burning wreckage, but he died at the hospital. He was the first Coloradan killed in a flying accident at the airfield. And, on Dec. 13, 1942, officials changed the name of the Colorado Springs Army Air Base to Peterson Army Air Base in honor of the fallen flyer.
Over the next few years, the base assumed new missions from heavy bomber combat crew training to fighter pilot training. In 1945, the Army inactivated the base, turning the property over to the City of Colorado Springs. From 1947 to 1949 the base was activated and deactivated. Finally, in 1951, the Air Force activated Peterson Field following the establishment of Air Defense Command at Ent Air Force Base, in downtown Colorado Springs. In 1958 the 4600th achieved wing status and was designated as the 4600th Air Base Wing. And, in 1976, Peterson Field was renamed Peterson Air Force Base.
Since then, U.S. Air Force officials activated Air Force Space Command at Peterson, followed by the activation of the 1st Space Wing on Jan. 1, 1983. Peterson Air Force Base became the hub of Air Force space activity when the 1st Space Wing assumed host unit responsibility.
In May 1992, personnel and equipment transferred to the 21st Space Wing which activated on May 15, 1992.
Today, the 21st Space Wing is the Air Force's most widespread and diverse wing, with 39 units at 27 locations in five countries around the world. Its mission is to conduct precise and disciplined missile warning, missile defense and space control operations; professionally operate, support and protect its installations while teaming with mission partners; and develop, deploy and care for its warrior Airmen who defend America and its Allies.
"Military personnel love living in Colorado Springs," Colonel Whiting said. "The local community is very welcoming. Of course there is a lot of retired military in the community and we always feel like we are at home when we are here."