Honoring NORAD’s 60 Years of Protecting the Homeland

By Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul J. Selva

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently spoke at the 60th anniversary celebration of NORAD. His remarks below have been abbreviated for brevity and clarity.

It’s an honor to be here today, back in Colorado, here at Peterson Air Force Base, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of an American and Canadian partnership that is unique among all military partnerships and alliances. It’s truly a pleasure when I do get to escape the Pentagon for just a few days to be with friends, to be out here amongst this scenery, in this place, in this community, that has so much history between our two nations. We’re here to celebrate and honor the legacy of this command, but also to celebrate the future.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Air Force General Paul J. Selva, speaks during the NORAD 60th Anniversary Ceremony on Peterson Air Force Base Colorado, May 12. DoD photo by Jhomil Bansil

This legacy began 60 years ago when the threat of nuclear attack was very real, when the threat of attack from Soviet bombers and Soviet missiles was something that we experienced every day.  If you’re as old as I am, and many of you are not, you remember practicing duck and cover drills in grade school. You remember fire drills where it was just as important to know where the fallout shelter was, as it was the closest exit.  We lived in real fear, and it was the development of this command that helped alleviate that fear. It helped build one of the building blocks of deterrence that has served us since that day.

During this time period, a group of talented staff officers from the U.S. Continental Air Defense Command and the Royal Canadian Air Force gathered for a series of meetings. These young men and women decided that we were more powerful together than we were separately.  The outcome of those meetings was a recommendation to the United States and Canada that we could counter that threat more effectively if we combined our forces and formed an integrated, bi-national command, completely unique, but built for purpose.

Leaders of both nations agreed, and what began as a necessity during the darkest days of the Cold War has evolved into one of the closest relationships in history.

From day one, in the halls of the old hospital building up the road that served as NORAD’s first headquarters – then in the depths of the iconic Cheyenne Mountain – and now right here at Peterson Air Force Base and at the air defense sectors located throughout the United States and Canada, the United States and Canadian service members have worked shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand, watching over the North American continent.

It is a model of cooperation, integration and accountability, unmatched anywhere else in the world.  In fact, as I stand here today, I can say it would be a rare day that that might be repeated: that two nations would sit down and agree to compromise on the arguments over sovereignty and come to an agreement that protecting each other is the most important thing we can do together.

We find other challenges when we look to the high north.  The Arctic is melting, creating more accessibility for commercial purposes, but also challenges for our continental safety and security.  I have no doubt that NORAD will adapt.

And we can no longer guard solely against external threats.  Regrettably, we must be prepared for security challenges that originate from within our borders. Again, I have no doubt that the men and women of NORAD will adapt.

NORAD 60th Anniversary tribute

#NORAD is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this Saturday! As the only binational command in the world, NORAD is honored to carry out the unique mission of protecting North America. We hope you enjoy this tribute video highlighting the enduring partnership between U.S. and Canada over the past six decades.U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Department of National Defence, Canadian Armed Forces, Royal Canadian Air Force, Canadian Forces CF18 Demo Team, Alaskan Command & 11th Air Force, America's AOC #WeHaveTheWatch #NORAD60

Posted by NORAD and U.S. Northcom on Monday, May 7, 2018

It is fortunate NORAD has evolved over the past 60 years. It remains as vital and relevant today as it was on that day 60 years ago when it was formed. And there will be plenty to keep us busy.

You assess hundreds of missile launches every year. The tactical actions you take to protect our airspace on any given day happen about every six hours. To tens of thousands of pieces of space debris that you track and help our commercial and military partners navigate in space, Colorado Springs does start to look like the center of the universe.

When you and your NORTHCOM brothers and sisters wake up each day, you take pride in knowing that you are defending North America, our homeland, and that means a few hundred million people every day can sleep soundly. I’m one of them.

Selva and the Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Air Force General Lori Robinson, participate in the NORAD 60th Anniversary ceremony. DoD photo by Lewis Carlyle

I will close by saying that all of those who wear the uniforms of our nations represent the very best that our nations have to offer.

In 1961, standing before the Canadian Parliament, U.S. President John F. Kennedy said the following: “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. [Indeed] what unites us is far greater than [anything that might divide] us.”

The militaries of Canada and the United States have shared the battlefield since WWI. We have stood side by side guarding our nations and this continent for 60 years.

Tonight, when my head hits the pillow, I will sleep soundly because I know that all of you have the watch – that you will be guarding both of our nations to the benefit of all our citizens, Canadian and American. For that I say God bless you all, God speed, and thank you. Congratulations on 60 years of success, and I wish you 60 more.

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