The Space Force has served as fodder for many comedians who have questioned what it does since it stood up in 2019. Now in its third year, the service continues to tell its story and to explain its importance to the American public. On Dec. 6, they got a boost from CBS’s The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The popular comedian engaged in irreverent humor on a visit to Thule Air Base in Greenland but also showcased some of the Space Force’s most important roles there and visited service members as part of a USO trip.
“I wanted to learn about their mission,” Colbert said while introducing his special titled “Red, White, and Greenland: Stephen Cold-Bear is Lost in Space Force.”
What the Space Force enables America’s military and the general public to do is critical, the service says. People around the globe would struggle to navigate a few blocks without the Global Positioning System. America’s defense relies on its satellites and tracking capabilities. But space is increasingly congested and contested, the Space Force says, and it has to address that challenge. On The Late Show, the service got to show why its mission matters on a popular television show.
“It was really important to go and do the engagement because the American public is still learning what the Space Force is and why we stood up, and we know that space is a war-fighting domain,” a Space Force spokesperson who was on the trip told Air & Space Forces Magazine on Dec. 8.
Colbert interviewed Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger A. Towberman. While the affable Towberman played along with Colbert’s intentionally ignorant interviewing style, he was able to explain the importance of the Space Force. Towberman’s interview with Colbert was part of a longer visit by the Space Force’s top enlisted member to visit with service members at Thule, the Space Force said.
“We ensure unfettered access and freedom to maneuver in space,” Towberman told Colbert. “There’s an increasing amount of activity. There’s more stuff up there. … It’s becoming very, very busy.”
At Thule, Colbert visited the 12th Space Warning Squadron, which operates a missile early warning system as part of Space Delta 4, and the 23rd Space Operations Squadron, part of Space Delta 6’s global satellite control network. Thule is part of U.S. Space Command’s Missile Warning Center. Colbert experienced a simulated ballistic missile launch.
Colbert’s trip was not just public relations for the service and television fodder for one of CBS’s flagship programs. Colbert has a long-standing relationship with the USO. In 2009, Colbert went to Iraq to film multiple episodes of his old Comedy Central program, The Colbert Report, in front of a live audience at Camp Victory in Baghdad. Colbert had his head shaved by the late Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the bald commander of American troops in the country, in solidarity with U.S. service members. At Thule, Colbert was also appreciative of American troops stationed there.
“He was so friendly,” the spokesperson said of Colbert’s visit to Thule. “Every single person felt like they mattered and was valued when he said hi.”
Thule is a harsh place to be deployed. It is the northernmost U.S. base in the world. The landscape is barren, and Guardians often joke it is similar to being deployed to the surface of Mars, according to the spokesperson.
Service members at Thule have limited connection to the outside world, despite the service’s role in communications across the joint force.
“Anything like this, it’s just really important for the morale,” the spokesperson said.
Colbert visited Aug. 4-5 and taped segments for the show. Towberman’s visit lasted several days.
Colbert also did a stand-up comedy routine and sang karaoke with country music singer Sturgill Simpson and Towberman for the assembled service members.
“Their visit was a really good opportunity to affect the morale and welfare of the Guardians and the Airmen who served there,” the spokesperson said. “But also [to] talk about that mission and being able to show what’s so special and unique.”