FACETIME: Blasting Off buckley’s newest commander, running one of aurora’s largest employers, talks about growing up and taking over the base

Every two years, the nameplate on the commander’s desk at Buckley Air Force Base gets swapped out for a new one.

Buckley AFB
Buckley AFB

As of May, Col. John Wagner has been the latest moniker to grace that coveted spot on a desk in North Aurora. Previously the commander of the 614th Aid and Space Operations Center and the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Wagner is no stranger to the mission of Buckley’s 460th Space Wing — which centers on global missile detection using satellites. We sat down with Buckley’s newest boss and asked him about what’s going on at Aurora’s biggest economic engine as well as what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure there.

Q: Buckley’s economic impact on Aurora is huge — just shy of $1 billion. Under your command, do you see that impact changing at all?

Buckley is going to continue to grow and we’re seeing growth right now with the Mountain View Complex. If you look, we’re about a six square mile patch of property here, but we’re only about a third built-out. Obviously, we want to make sure we have easements, and have approach runways secured and safe, but there’s still space to grow and lots of government organizations know that. As we look at consolidating other bases, Buckley’s a viable candidate for receiving both people and equipment because it’s a great location in the center of the country.

Q: With so much expected growth, what kind of dynamic between the base and surrounding communities do you envision going forward?

It’s funny being in this job, because I get notes from folks saying, “hey I’m really missing the sound of the airplanes overhead,” and people take their kids up to their roofs to watch the F-16s and watch the helicopters fly over. The Guard is working really hard to create more quiet hours on the base and really limit it to what we can. And if you look at how the community continues to kind of encroach Buckley, we’re looking at options to try to mitigate that over the course of the next couple of years, where we look at the border of Buckley and at our encroachment areas.

Q: How do you see recent cutbacks and reconsolidation across the Air Force affecting the operation at Buckley?

Our mission is not going to go away. We provide more data than we ever have for our war fighters worldwide. So we’ll make do with whatever cuts we have to, but I really see the opposite effect. I see us probably gaining a little bit, because of the importance of this mission. That said, we’re headed for some tough economic times with where sequestration is headed, but I never want to use sequestration as an excuse. We’re going to do our missions to the best of our ability however we can.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure here at Buckley?

Two things, we want to be the best place to live and the best place to work in the United States Air Force.

Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not in your office?

Well, I want to be out of the office more than I am in the office. I mean how can you not in a place like Colorado? So that’s what I’m trying to do, enjoy the community, Things like going to a Red Rocks concert – I took my wife to a One Republic concert up there this summer – or going on a hike up in the aspens. But, even just things like going out for a walk or going out to the reservoir, where, while we’re not on the ocean, you can rent a jet ski at Cherry Creek. I mean how cool is that?

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