|Traditionally, military formations have chosen mascots as symbols of corporate pride.
A mascot personifies the collective values of a unit and serves as a focus of morale.
In 1996, the 21st Space Wing selected a mascot called "Iron Mike," and promoted him to Captain of the Team 21 "Guards." "Iron Mike" leads the wing charge during the annual Guardian Challenge Competition held at Vandenberg AFB, California, where Team 21 goes head-to-head with other Air Force Space Command units from around the world.
The legend of "Iron Mike" began in 1966 when the 317th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, adopted a five-foot, five- inch, 45 pound suit of armor complete with helmet, sword, and shield as its mascot.
The 317th was assigned to the 21st Composite Wing (CW), a lineal forerunner of the 21st Space Wing. Almost immediately, the 21 CW accepted "Iron Mike" as a symbol of the wingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fighting spirit.
The prized suit of armor traveled between the squadrons of the 21st from 1966 through 1969. Sometimes squadrons lent "Mike" voluntarily, while at other times intrepid bands of wing personnel "liberated" the armored warrior from a sister unit.
In between these tongue-in-cheek misadventures, "Iron Mike," like a true knight errant, guarded against Cold War aggression over the far reaches of North America, and quested as far east as Greenland, and as far south as California. "Mike" even followed the forces of freedom to Viet Nam for his baptism under fire.
"Iron Mike" remained associated with the 21 CW until 31 December 1969, when the 317th inactivated.
Unfortunately, the squadron dispatched the mascot to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, without clearance from the headquarters of the 21st Composite Wing.
Despite appeals from the 21st Space Wingto have "Mike" returned, the cherished mascot remained at the museum where it stands to the present day.
21st Space Wing Peterson AFB, Colorado