Gates Salutes NORAD’s 50 Years as Guardian of Skies
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May. 13, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates saluted North American Aerospace Defense Command’s role as the guardian of North American skies at the organization’s 50th anniversary observance here last night. Video
NORAD, a U.S.-Canadian military organization, was established May 12, 1958, to defend North America from air and space threats.
“Both of our nations are dedicated to protecting North Americans from air attacks, and this institution remains a vital part of the defense of the continent,” Gates said during his address at NORAD’s Golden Jubilee Ball at the Broadmoor resort.
Canada has long been a valued friend of the United States, Gates said, noting he shared the podium with Canadian Minister of National Defense Peter Gordon MacKay.
Gates thanked Canada for its partnership in the war on terror. Some 3,000 Canadian troops are serving in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. “I also thank you for your ongoing commitment to NORAD,” Gates told MacKay.
The then-Soviet Union’s launch of its Sputnik satellite in 1957 “accelerated the space race and raised the specter of attack on our homeland by intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Gates recalled. The United States and Canada set up an extensive radar network to protect North American air space, Gates said, and NORAD operations began on Sept. 12, 1957, eight months before the command’s formal establishment.
NORAD’s mission is no less important today, Gates observed, especially with the advent of transnational terrorism. Operation Noble Eagle airspace-protection missions have been flown over the homeland since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said. Noble Eagle supplies a ready alert force, air patrols, and surveillance to the United States and Canada, Gates said. Its pilots have flown 45,000 sorties since the terror attacks, he noted.
NORAD always is on guard for enemy threats emanating from the skies or space, Gates said. In 2006, NORAD added maritime surveillance to its mission list.
Starting even before its formal establishment, NORAD has tracked Santa Claus each year as he flies around the world in his reindeer-drawn sleigh bringing Christmas gifts and cheer to children worldwide, Gates said.
“Looking back at all the years, and all the Christmases spent tracking Santa, we take for granted the advances that have been made --– like satellites in space and the ability to communicate across the globe in an instant,” Gates observed.
NORAD has steadfastly performed its important missions with creativity and innovation for the past half-century, Gates said.
“It is, in the final analysis, still one of our first and last defenses of that which we cherish most: our loved ones, our liberties, our countries,” Gates said.
“To all the men and women who have dedicated their lives to defending this continent, I thank you,” the secretary said. “As we look back on all that has been accomplished, let us also look forward to new challenges and new triumphs.”
MacKay echoed Gates’ feelings about NORAD.
“Looking back over five decades, we can be proud of everything that NORAD has accomplished and everything NORAD stands for,” MacKay said. In the future, he said, NORAD “must continue to adapt, innovate and cooperate, because our mutual security depends upon it.”
NORAD and U.S. Northern Command are based at Peterson Air Force Bbase here and are commanded by U.S. Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., whose deputy at NORAD is a Canadian flag officer, Lt. Gen. Charlie Bouchard. Established on Oct. 1, 2002, U.S. Northern Command conducts homeland defense and civil support missions.
U.S. and Canadian military officials at NORAD are now “fusing together their mutual interests, their great planning capabilities” to improve the organization so it can successfully confront future challenges, Renuart said.
“So, we’ll continue to guard what you all value most: our families, our friends and our communities,” Renuart promised.
“That really is the legacy of NORAD,” he said.