By Staff Sgt. Don Branum, 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 12, 2006
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Editor's Note: Gen. Bernard Schriever's birthday is Sept. 14. If he were still alive, he would be 96. General Schriever died June 20, 2005.
Gen. Bernard Schriever made a visionary speech about ballistic missile applications in San Diego in February 1957. At a time when few people would have predicted a "space race" or manned spaceflight, General Schriever discussed using Air Force guidance systems to hit the moon, surface-to-surface transportation of people via rocket engines and manned spaceflight to the moon and Mars.
The mobilization assistant to the commander of Air Force Space Command recalled meeting the father of U.S. Air Force space and missile programs and talking to General Schriever about the speech.
"When he talked to me about this speech, he couldn't help but chuckle," Maj. Gen. Thomas Taverney said. "He discussed the immediate wire he got from (then) Secretary of Defense (Charles) Wilson, telling him to never use the word 'space' again in any of his speeches. Of course, Sputnik launched later that year, and obviously, the world changed."
Nearly 50 years after that speech, the U.S. Air Force is the world's most powerful air and space force because of General Schriever's work. Although General Schriever died June 20, 2005, his legacy and vision live on, given form in AFSPC's mission and direction toward the future.
General Schriever's vision for the future of the Air Force in space had a firm rooting in America's history. The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor impacted General Schriever's philosophy, General Taverney said.
"He was vocal about being prepared for anything and making sure we never again were surprised like we had been in 1941," the general said. "He said, 'Do not underestimate your enemy, and be prepared to be vastly superior to him in all arenas.'"
When it became clear the United States was at a disadvantage in the early space race, the Defense Department put General Schriever in charge of vaulting the Air Force into first place.
"Future historians will look back upon the Cold War and point to General Bennie Schriever as a decisive factor in our victory," wrote Gen. Lance Lord, former AFSPC commander, in a commentary last year. "General Schriever was there when his nation needed a measured response to Sputnik."
General Schriever believed in three components of a solid method in developing systems, General Taverney said. The first was backing up system development with a comprehensive program of basic research in various technology areas.
"That is, don't be afraid of taking risks and developing technology -- we still need to be at the forefront -- but have a robust technology program to drive down the risks inherent with those pacing technologies," General Taverney explained.
The second component was reliability testing to fully understand systems at the component level, followed by subsystem and system tests. This method of testing remains today in everything from space technology to software development.
"This philosophy of understanding what you're building down to the component level is something that has stayed with me ever since I talked to him," General Taverney said.
The third component was having an airtight system of backups -- from backup component vendors to entire backups of system development.
"As soon as General Schriever came onto the ballistic missile development program, he espoused a backup to the Atlas," General Taverney said. "In October 1955, he finally got his backup program in the first two-stage rocket, the Titan."
The resolve required in getting the Titan program off the ground is one of General Taverney's most notable memories.
"(General Schriever) had gotten his way (in getting a back-up for Atlas) and used much of his good will in Washington, D.C., getting the Titan program going," the general said.
However, General Schriever started looking at solids, first as a second stage for the Titan, then as a system in and of itself. He felt that this was the right technology for ballistic missiles and went to work selling this approach to the decision makers.
General Schriever finally received approval to develop the Minuteman missile in March 1961.
"He delivered the first operational Minuteman in less than 18 months -- and not a moment too soon, as it arrived just before the Cuban Missile Crisis," General Taverney said. "We were having real problems getting the liquid rockets fueled fast enough to meet their required reaction times."
While there may have been other people who could have accomplished what General Schriever did to give the Air Force a strategic advantage, there was no one else who was at the right place at the right time, General Taverney said.
"General Schriever brought a unique combination of vision, courage of his convictions, people-management and leadership skills and deep technical capacity. He was likely the only one at that specific point in time who combined those traits with his rank," General Taverney said. "General Schriever didn't just see his job as building strategic missiles; he saw himself as the steward of the nation's future in space."
General Taverney said he feels a responsibility to continue General Schriever's vision.
"I have always looked at my job as one we are doing for the future of the nation, not as a delivery of a specific product," he said. "I know that was the way many of the people who followed General Schriever looked at things.
"I think in that way, we may be different from other major commands," he continued. "The legacies of Gen. Ralph Eberhart (former U.S. Northern Command commander) and Gen. Lance Lord (former AFSPC commander) go far beyond what we are building in systems. General Lord saw the future when we developed the Joint Space Operations Center. No one told us to do this; it was just the right way to move the (Air Force) space mission forward."
AFSPC will continue in the direction General Schriever first set, General Taverney said. For that reason, it's important to remember and honor the general's accomplishments and their impact today.
"Everyone in this business is forever indebted to General Schriever," he said. "I never got to work under him directly, but I've always felt like I worked for him."
General Schriever was born in Bremen, Germany, Sept. 14, 1910. He moved to the United States with his parents in 1917 and joined the U.S. Army in 1931. He was promoted to brigadier general in June 1953 and became a four-star general July 1, 1961.