Audubon native rises in Air Force
When Robert Peterson was growing up in Audubon (he's a 1989 graduate), and even when he joined the Air Force after high school, he didn't necessarily plan to make the military a career.
But, earlier this summer, after 19 years in the service, he was promoted to colonel and began a new assignment in the Air Force Inspector General's Office at the Pentagon.
"Every assignment has been very rewarding. I've been extremely fortunate to work alongside some true heroes and incredible professionals," he said from his home in Maryland, where he lives with his wife, Cecilia, and their two sons, Zane, 4, and Gustave, 7 months.
Peterson's parents, Ellis and Mary Peterson, live on Big Cormorant Lake, and Peterson said he tries to get back at least once a year to visit his family.
During his time in the Air Force, duties have taken him to various places including Korea, Qatar, Germany and South Africa.
"The entire experience has gone by in the blink of an eye," he said. "The only issue is that I've been too busy to figure out what I want to do when I grow up."
Peterson said he started in the Air Force when he was offered an ROTC scholarship and believed the technical experience gained in the Air Force would lead to a good civilian job once he had met the four-year requirement.
He attended the University of St. Thomas and majored in math. He also was the ROTC detachment commander his senior year.
"My first assignment was at Falcon Air Station outside of Colorado Springs, Colo. I was assigned to Space Command as an orbital analyst and used my math degree to determine the location of Missile Warning and Navigation (GPS) satellites."
He explained that when satellites were launched, he was responsible for calculating the rocket burns required to get the satellite in the desired orbit. The Missile Warning satellites were used to relay threat messages to troops in harms way, and the GPS satellites were becoming more important as they were all transitioning to hand-held navigation devices and satellite-guided weapons.
"I really enjoyed the first assignment, so I decided to do another tour in the Air Force," he said.
He was assigned to Buckley Air Force Base in Denver, working on a new space program.
"I set up the Orbit Analysis and Spacecraft Engineering offices and once again enjoyed the challenge of the assignment," he said. "I also really enjoyed living in Colorado and realized there was a very large presence of space-related activities all along the front-range of the Rocky Mountains."
After serving a three-year Squadron Command tour at Buckley Air Force Base from 2008-2011, Peterson was selected to attend the National War College in Washington, D.C.
He said the War College was established following World War II with the aim of educating future leaders of the Armed Forces, State Department and other civilian agencies in the study of national security strategy.
"Among my classmates were members of all the military services, State Department, CIA, FBI and also international students from 30 foreign countries."
He earned a Master of Science Degree in National Security Strategy, and after graduation in June of this year, he was promoted to Colonel and began his new assignment in the Air Force Inspector General's Office at the Pentagon.
Inspections at the
One of the reasons the American public holds the military in high regard, he said, is that they hold themselves accountable to maintaining the highest standards of professionalism in war and peace.
"And when members fail to live up to those standards, the services don't brush it under the rug or hope the issue will go away. Instead, we take action to correct the problem."
That is where his job comes in.
"I work in a small branch specializing in senior official investigations. When a general officer, senior ranking civilian or presidential appointee assigned to the Air Force are accused of wrongdoing, I will interview witnesses, gather evidence and make a determination on whether or not the accusation is substantiated."
Peterson said the final product, the investigation report, goes to the Air Force Inspector General and other senior leaders.
"Some reports end up on Capitol Hill or are directed to the POTUS (presidents of the United States)."
Peterson said that though he works in the Pentagon, a target for terrorists 11 years ago on 9/11, he doesn't feel nervous or threatened being there.
"Whether at the Pentagon, or any other base or overseas location I've been assigned to, most of the time you really are just too busy and focused on your job to be nervous," he said. "That said, we are all trained to be on the lookout for suspicious activity and to respond to various types of attack."
He added that it's important not to let their guard down either, but it's easy to be vigilant -- there are constant reminders throughout the Pentagon.
"There is an incredible 9/11 memorial and tributes to the victims throughout the building. These are reminders of the seriousness of our business."
Peterson has a challenging, responsible job in the nation's capital and appreciates the opportunities he has earned and been granted along the way.
"The military provided a tremendous opportunity for me. I've received skills training in space operations and several other technical areas. The service has paid for two separate master's degrees. I've traveled the world and have been through several unique experiences.
"Obviously, there are dangers associated with military service, long hours and stressful situations. But it's all in the service of our nation's security, and I'm proud to have joined the invaluable national servants we call veterans."
Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.