OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - The former Strategic Air Command has a storied history that dates back to the Cold War with the one-time Soviet Union. Many military leaders who experienced those tense moments of yesteryear have quite a story to tell. Former SAC leaders gathered with present day U.S. Strategic Command leadership, who carry on that legacy of long-range strike capabilities and leading America’s nuclear forces into the future, during the SAC Memorial and Dedication and Reunion.
The reunion events marked the twentieth anniversary of SAC’s stand down, and the activation of the first iteration of USSTRATCOM. The SAC Memorial and Dedication Reunion Senior Leader’s forum opened up the schedule of events June 1 at the Patriot Club where former and current SAC and USSTRATCOM leaders offered a narrative on the evolution of the command.
“The reason we can sit here today with, I believe, a very comfortable and confident perspective on the future is because of all the people who have gone before us,” said Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Commander, USSTRATCOM. “We have themed this event as ‘Continuity and Change’ because there’s an old saw that says ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same. ’”
General Kehler moderated the panel and provided a historic chronological overview of the command to an audience of approximately 200 military and civilian attendees. He also introduced each panelist and made mention of their tenure as it corresponded with the timeline. He opened up the discussion with the activation of SAC.
“SAC was born in a different time for a very specific purpose and in a world that had just emerged from the nightmare of World War II - some described as the continuation of a 20 year war that had really begun in 1914,” General Kehler said. “Its mission, this might sound familiar to you, ‘be prepared to conduct long-range offensive operations in any part of the world, conduct maximum rangeÂ reconnaissance over land or sea, and provide combat units capable of intense and sustained combat operations employing the latest and most advanced weapons. ’”
SAC was officially established on March 21, 1946 and headquartered at Bolling Field outside Washington, D.C. with approximately 38,000 personnel and a nuclear capable stockpile of nine weapons. General Kehler noted relevant changes from the activation of SAC to present day USSTRATCOM, including the vast stockpile growth during the Cold War and stockpile reductions due to the implementation of START 1 in 1991 and the New START treaty in 2010. Other changes included differing numbers of assigned personnel, changes in leadership, and significant events that unfolded during tumultuous times in history including the Korean War, Vietnam, and Sept. 11. USSTRATCOM was activated in place of SAC on June 1, 1992 as a result of the end of the Cold War. USSTRATCOM was again activated Oct. 1, 2002 when it merged with U.S. Space Command and in 2003 expanded its missions to include global strike, missile defense integration, information operations, and command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR.
Each panelist was presented a question that was relevant to their time in the command. Questions were presented by military members in the audience and panelists had a six minute time limit to respond.
Panelists for the event included:
- General Kehler, Commander, USSTRATCOM, 2011 - present
- Retired Gen. Larry Welch, Commander in Chief, SAC, 1985 - 1986
- Retired Gen. Jack Chain, CINC, SAC, 1986 - 1991
- Retired Gen. Gene Habiger, CINC, USSTRATCOM, 1996 - 1998
- Retired Adm. James Ellis, Commander, USSTRATCOM, 2001 - 2004
- Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, 2011 - present
- Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Alston, Senior Enlisted Leader, USSTRATCOM, 2011 - present
- Retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James McCoy, Senior Enlisted Advisor, SAC, 1975 - 1979
- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Charles Reynolds, SEA, SAC, 1979 - 1981
- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Jan Boyd, SEA, SAC, 1981 - 1983
- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Dan Cook, SEA, SAC, 1983 - 1989
- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Narofsky, SEL, USSTRATCOM, 2008 - 2011
Many of the questions the panelists were presented with mirrored similar issues facing the military today.
Touching on the evolving nature of USSTRATCOM, Ellis, commander from 2001-2004, commented on the expansion of USSTRATCOM mission sets and the merger with U.S. Space Command.
“We were recapturing the definition of ‘strategic,’ it no longer was a euphemism for nuclear, it was all the things becoming a part of the Strategic Posture Review, the Nuclear Posture Review, the new triad,” Ellis said.
McCoy answered a question where he explained the effect of the post â€“Vietnam War drawdown on SAC’s enlisted force in the 1970’s, which was contrasted to what troops today face with the drawdowns from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The fact that the American people have great respect for everybody sitting out there in uniform, we didn’t have that luxury. But they have great respect for you and if you can keep yourself positive and set the example for other people to follow you â€¦ you’ll get through this,” McCoy said.
General Kehler cited the enlisted force as “the ones who are at the pointy end of the spear” when it comes to getting the mission done and presented Sergeant Major Alston with the final question: what do you see in our force today and what are the challenges?
“I’ll tell you without a doubt, the force today is equipped - it’s prepared to do what the nation is asking them to do and that is to help our nation remain free and to let each and every one of you to enjoy your freedoms each and every day. Young Americans, sons and daughters, are willing to stand in the gap to ensure that democracy remains free in this country and they’re doing a brilliant job of it,” Sergeant Major Alston said. “They raised their hand and said those 74 words and understand that ‘all will give some and some will give all,’ but yet they still come. ”