Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center to Grow

Roxanne Christian and Nicole Padilla
Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
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Since the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center's establishment in March of 2006, Kirtland AFB has been the home of the AFNWC, strengthening the base's longstanding tradition of nuclear enterprise. Today Kirtland AFB grows even stronger as the AFNWC develops and expands to fulfill its goal of becoming the Air Force's center of excellence for all nuclear weapons systems activities.

Prior to 1990, nuclear weapons systems acquisition and modification capabilities in the Air Force was well structured and understood by all participants, with the majority of nuclear operations centered at Kelly AFB just outside of San Antonio, Texas. After 1992, the Nuclear Weapons/System Acquisition and Modification capability atrophied as its structure weakened and became increasingly diluted.

With Base Realignment and Closure, Kelly AFB ceased to exist, leaving organizations such as the nuclear sector of the Air Force Weapons Laboratory completely disbanded. That which had been consolidated at Kelly AFB was dispersed and Air Force nuclear weapons systems became fragmented.

In August 2001, a comprehensive assessment of the Air Force's nuclear surety was launched by Brig. Gen. Paul J. Sullivan, former vice commander of the Air Armament Center, Eglin AFB, Fla. Subsequently, in December 2003, the Air Force Audit Agency conducted a parallel study spearheaded by Brig. Gen. Robert L. Smolen.

Both investigations determined the necessity for a single manager of nuclear weapons sustainment in the Air Force. In November 2004, Gen. Gregory S. Martin, former Air Force Materiel Command commander, issued a directive, which called for the establishment of a "consolidated nuclear weapon organization within AFMC. "

In January of the following year, conception of the Nuclear Weapons Center began. Its mission: "To ensure safe, secure, and reliable, nuclear weapons systems to support the national command structure and the Air Force war-fighter. "

Phases I and II
Birth of the Nuclear Weapons Center happened in phases. Phase I initiated the consolidation of all nuclear weapons activities within AFMC. Phase II began with the stand up of the Nuclear Weapons Center on Jan. 2, 2006.

"It wasn't easy. It was a battle. A lot of people thought we would fail. There was no staff and a lot of people asking questions," recalls Hal Meisterling, Plans and Programs manager for the 498th Armament Systems Wing and retired commander of the nuclear division of the Air Force Weapons Lab. "We had to convince people that, number one, we were real and here to stay; and number two, we weren't trying to take anyone's money away, we were just trying to make things better. "

Col. Terrence Feehan pioneered the Center. He sacrificed a significant portion of his personal life and spent countless hours on temporary duty assignments to enable the center to take off. "Essentially, he was never here. He was out fighting to establish us," said Mr. Meisterling.

On Feb. 29, 2008, once it was determined that the center had consolidated almost ever y t hing pertaining to nuclear sustainment and surety in the Air Force, it was renamed the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. Brig. Gen. Everett H. Thomas took command of the Center on April 17. Since then, the AFNWC has continued to grow and prosper.

Air Force Comprehensive Assessment of Nuclear Sustainment
In June 2008, after two nuclear incidents that negatively impacted the Air Force, General Thomas was called to lead an evaluation known as the Air Force Comprehensive Assessment of Nuclear Sustainment, or AFCANS. It was a 60-day investigation held at Hill AFB, Utah, to identify solutions and find resources needed to fix the problems that the Air Force was having with nuclear surety.

"The Chief of Staff of the Air Force assigned me to go out and look around and we found money," stated General Thomas during his Oct. 2 Commander's Call. Money, along with people, was the primary result of the AFCANS investigation.

"This was the only report that identified solutions and resources needed to fix the problems," said Ms. Irene Gutierrez, AFNWC chief financial officer. From this, $150 million was approved for FY09 for AFCANS requirements and another $500 million was laid in for the FY10-15 Program Objective Memorandum requirements.

Phase III
While Phase II involved the absorption of all nuclear activities in the Air Force, Phase III involves the buildup of the Center. This will give it the manpower and support it needs to carry out the duties levied upon it.

To help with this buildup and reorganization, the AFNWC brought in some experts. Among them was Dennis O. Abbey, senior management consultant, SAIC Defense Solutions Group, Arlington, Va. Mr. Abbey conducted a two-week workshop at the AFNWC in which department leaders came together and developed a standardized organizational structure for the AFNWC.

"While the overall change vision and structure for the Center was understood, I knew we'd have to spend time developing change requirements at a greater level of detail. We did this by involving subject matter experts from across the staff, and with General Thomas' insights and guidance, we were successful in developing the new structure and describing it in a way that Air Force senior leadership could make informed decisions," said Mr. Abbey.

"There is no better way to develop an organization than to involve the folks who actually perform the work. All assigned to the Kirtland Team have a stake in the outcome and by involving them directly into the process, we gained insights, ideas and ‘best practice' processes that will make the AFNWC a great organization," remarked Mr. Abbey.

Currently, the AFNWC oversees 3,464 people who are considered members of the staff, which includes officers, enlisted, civilians and contractors. The AFNWC will gain another 288 people who will be dispersed among the wings, groups, and command section staff.

AFNWC Vice Commander
To further assist General Thomas, the AFNWC was assigned a new vice commander, Col. Walter J. Lindsley, former Commander of the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group at Hill AFB. Colonel Lindsley assumed the position Nov. 15.

Fly, Fight, Win
It has been a long and rigorous journey for the people of the AFNWC, but it's not over yet. With the end of Phase III and the beginning of Phase IV in sight, everyone is working harder than ever to produce a real "Center of Excellence. "

"We achieved what we set out to accomplish, but it is only a start. We now have months of hard work to gain final approvals and complete the implementation. This will take continued commitment and attention to detail, knowing we can expect other changes along the way. I am confident, working as a team, the AFNWC will complete a flawless change journey, thereby enhancing effectiveness of the entire Air Force nuclear enterprise," said Mr. Abbey.

During his Oct. 2 Commander's Call, General Thomas stated, "What we do here at the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, we are committed; not just contributors. We don't just show up, contribute for eight hours and go home. We're committed to what we do. And why should we be committed? Because America is trusting us with the two greatest resources ever. What are those resources? Simple. Blood and treasure. I need you to be committed to what you're doing; to guard blood and treasure, just like it's yours. "

With its laser focus on reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise, the AFNWC here is poised to protect America's most vital resources for many generations to come.

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