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SPEECH | Oct. 17, 2013

Annual USSTRATCOM update to the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce

GENERAL C. ROBERT KEHLER:  Thank you Don for that very, very gracious introduction and good afternoon everyone.  It’s a pleasure for me to be here in what has become an annual opportunity for us to chat for a couple of minutes about what’s happening in Strategic Command.  Much of it you already know, some of it will be a history lesson for you, but I do think that it’s important for us to get face-to-face, especially with our neighbors in Bellevue, periodically and talk about the Command and what’s happening. 

So, I’ll take a couple of minutes and do that and then I thought that I would open the floor for some questions.  I demand easy questions, by the way. I’ll just say that at the outset.  I always say that when I get in front of a crowd, but it never works.  But I demand easy questions and the only rule that I have is ask whatever you want but be prepared for the answer. 

Thanks to the Bellevue Chamber for inviting me to come and, as I say, give what has become an annual update.  And I think that’s a very helpful thing for us to do. 

Madame Mayor [NOTE:  Mayor Sanders], it’s always good to see you and thanks for representing a terrific city.  We are your neighbors, I know you know that, we all know that, but sometimes it’s important for us to step back for a moment and remind ourselves what great neighbors we really are here and how we really feed off of one another and why that’s an important relationship.  I can’t think of a better audience really to give such an update to then this one.  And I can’t think of an audience that has a closer day-to-day relationship with Strategic Command and Offutt Air Force Base than our next door neighbors here in Bellevue. 

I must say that I need to begin by offering my sincere thanks to all of you for the great support we get from the community and especially the support we get on behalf of those young men and women who volunteer to serve our country, wind up here in Omaha, Nebraska.  Many of them don’t even really know where Omaha is. Some of them, if they were like me, when I was starting out, aren’t sure which one of the square ones Nebraska is, and so you kind of figure that out after a while.  You come here with some amount of apprehension, then you get here and literally, people don’t want to leave.  So that says something about all of you and I’ll say more about that in a second.

I think it’s a great time to be in Nebraska.  The harvest is coming in, the Huskers are 5-1, and it looks like the turf toe is starting to heal [NOTE:  Taylor Martinez’s turf toe] and just in time for a game, in couple or three or four weeks, with my alma mater, which this year will be in State College, which ought to be a very interesting game between Nebraska and Penn State.  I think that Nebraska has been a terrific addition to the Big 10 and speaking as a Big 10 person, I think that that Conference has an awful lot to be proud of and certainly what Nebraska has brought to that.  I mentioned to J. D. Milliken, last year when Nebraska and Penn State played one another, in the immediate aftermath of what had been a stunning series of announcements out of Penn State, if you remember that game, Nebraska and Penn State gathered in the middle of the field at the start-- that’s the classiest thing that I’ve ever seen in a major sporting event ever.  And I called J. D. Milliken, as a Penn State Alum, and I said, and I told him that.  I thought that was an incredibly classy thing to do and very appropriate and I know that speaking on behalf of a lot of my friends who are Penn State grads they appreciated that very much. 

I also almost hear the screams from the haunted house at the Bellevue Pumpkin Patch [NOTE:  Bellevue Berry Farm & Pumpkin Ranch] from my front door in the evening so that says something about the goodness of what’s going on in Nebraska at this time of year.  Of course the leaves are starting to fall, so now I have another excuse for not being able to find my golf ball.  So, life is good.  It’s great to be here today. 

You’ve always provided great support to USSTRATCOM, to the broader Team Offutt, to our families, to our service members, and of course to those of us who come and go from Nebraska over the years.  We’ve told people, and I believe that this is true, I’ve seen excellent community support everywhere we’ve ever been. And I do believe that’s true. But there’s something about the warmth and sincerity, and the shared values that we find here that is rare.  And so the young men and women who come here feel it and I think that it’s done on purpose by all of you--you make a point of it.  We tell people that if you want to come here for low cost of living and high quality of living where the schools are good and you don’t have to worry about walking on the streets this is the place for you to come.

I can tell you that not only do we say that this is a great relationship but you show it.  And most recently, here is how you showed it. The base pool, over here off of Capehart and 25th Street, was in danger of not opening up this year because of financial conditions and the pool needed some work and there were some issues about whether we’re going to have enough money, whether the Wing was going to have enough money to open the pool.  The community, having heard that, approached us and offered to sponsor the pool this year. So, we opened the pool for the kids and that’s exactly what happened.   And, so, that was not a small sum of money.  And the community put that money forward so that the kids that live around that area would have some place to go.  I was there the Saturday that the pool opened. We were able to cut the ribbon and the good news is that the rush of children that were going into the pool didn’t drag the rest of us in there with them—it was a close thing!  It didn’t drag the rest of us in there with them, but I will tell you that just the excitement that they showed and the way that they went about expressing their own appreciation, which we’ll have an opportunity to do in a couple of weeks, maybe a little more formally, was something to see and a testament to all of you. 

We’re not outsiders, we are your neighbors.  The military has been in the Omaha area since 1868.  We are the community, the community is the military. This is not a group of outsiders.   And for all those years, if my math is correct, 144 – 45ish years, that we have been together here in the Omaha area I think that those bonds have grown and it’s just a great mutual friendship.  

So, when I was here the last time I mentioned about the old Chinese Proverb, “May you live in interesting times.”  And I said at that point in time we definitely live in interesting times but at USSTRATCOM we don’t get paid to live in interesting times, we get paid to deal with interesting times.  And, of course, that’s still the case today. 

One of the greatest challenges that we face is this operating environment that is unlike any operating environment we’ve ever seen before.  We face hybrid threats. We face them from multiple directions. And we face threats today that can cross domains.  And what I mean by that is if you consider that air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace are all domains -- you can imagine that today the threat can cross any of those domains.  If you can reach across the globe in a matter of milliseconds and touch someone through cyberspace, then from a National security standpoint the world has changed pretty dramatically, and it’s not going to go back.  How we adapt to that, what we do as a result of that, is what we are thinking our way through in order to shape the force as we go toward the future.  And I can tell you that today we are exclusively focused upon our set of missions, especially in times of uncertainty.

The best way to deal with uncertainty is to continue to focus on your mission.  And that’s what we’re doing just down the street here at Strategic Command.  Our responsibility is to deter strategic attack on our country, to assure our allies that we are able to support them, and to make sure we’re able to employ military force when we’re directed to do so by the President.  The Command continues to maintain the Nation’s nuclear deterrent force and I have 100 percent confidence that that force remains safe, secure, effective and ready. 

In the last year, we’ve faced a number of challenges at home and abroad:  fiscal uncertainty, of course; instability on the Korean Peninsula; cyber disruptions; and continued violence in the Middle-East are some that come to mind.  Strategic Command has played a part in dealing with all of these problems. 

Of course our budget is not immune from reductions and those reductions are not without impact.  The reductions that we have seen and that we expect to come will ultimately manifest themselves in an impact in the amount of things we can buy, and unless we’re careful, in the readiness of our force.  As we adjust to the reality of a restrained fiscal environment, the good news is that I still have the privilege of commanding the world’s best people who continue to get this mission done on a day-to-day basis!  Like I am every day, you should be very proud of the joint force we have at Strategic Command.  We need to continue to support that joint force, our all-volunteer force, and the impressive civilians that make up a critical part of our team.  Now there’s no question we’re going to have to do our part in Strategic Command to help ensure the nation’s financial security. 

Regarding the budget, I’m completely in agreement with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he says, “What we need is certainty, flexibility and time.”  I think those are three good words when we’re talking about our financial security and our financial future.  What we would like to have is certainty, flexibility and time. 

The World isn’t idle as we are addressing our own problems.  As we speak, some are modernizing their nuclear forces and stockpiles.  And they are investing in robust space and anti-satellite and cyberspace capabilities.  Others are pursing long-range ballistic missile and nuclear programs, space programs, and are also active in cyberspace.  These challenges we face are sobering.  Earlier this year, the leaders of North Korea were making threats against the United States and our allies in the Pacific.  In response, B-2 Bombers assigned to Strategic Command flew nonstop from a base in the United States to South Korea and back home, sending a clear message of US and allied resolve that helped to de-escalate that crisis.  

There are many other success stories throughout the last year.  We continue to build our partnerships with allied nations.  We’ve signed several bilateral agreements to share information used to more accurately track objects in space.  These agreements and similar efforts to expand our capabilities in space through cooperation with friends allow us to improve awareness in that ever crowded environment.  At a time of fiscal austerity, these partnerships are really invaluable. 

Many of Strategic Command’s unique missions have capabilities that need to be recapitalized.  And that’s going to be a difficult challenge in these financial times.  But we still need a replacement for the Ohio class ballistic missile submarine.  We need a new bomber and we need to continue on the path to a new tanker, while we examine follow-on to intercontinental ballistic missiles that are in the Minuteman force today.  Our Space capabilities have always been a strategic asset for our national security.  But, remember that every satellite that goes to orbit has a finite lifetime and they all eventually need to be replaced.  Our needs in cyberspace continue to grow and this fact should be no surprise to anybody in this audience.  Every day you rely on computers, cell phones and other technology that keeps you connected in a global economy—so do we.  In fact, we rely on space and cyberspace in the US military in ways that are unlike anyone else in the world.  Space and cyberspace are woven into the fabric of how the United States fights.  And so with those great advantages, which are provided through space and cyberspace, come vulnerabilities that we have to address.  We need the right people with the right training, with the right equipment, and a command and control architecture to ensure our success in both of those domains.  In addition, missile defense, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and combatting weapons of mass destruction all have their own specific requirements that will need to be addressed even as our budgets continue to decline.  We need to be smart and creative about how we balance those requirements with other national security needs and associated risks.  But it needs to get done and -- I am not a pessimist -- it will get done!  And we will come out the other side of these interesting times that we are in, I think even stronger than before. 

So let me say a word, before I open this for questions about our new command and control facility.  It was just, just over a year ago that we broke ground on what is a $485M Command and Control Facility, that’s the construction part.  There’s additional investment that will come in outfitting the building with the real reason for building it -- that’s the IT and Command and Control Systems that will actually go in to the building, which is why we started this project to begin with.

So, let me give you a quick update on the construction.   You might not be able to see it from the road, but what you can see from the road are a lot of big piles of dirt, and up until recently, every crane that I think existed in the Midwest was there for at least a couple of weeks, and other evidence that there is something big going on there.  But really you don’t see much from the road.  There has been significant progress, however.  The undertaking of creating the retaining wall that will encapsulate the building is practically finished.    You probably don’t know this, but when the original World Trade Center was built in Manhattan, because of the water, they had to build a wall that kept the water pressure manageable, and then they built the World Trade Center inside that.  The same thing has gone on here.  They built a wall first, that’s Step 1, then they’ll excavate out from inside that wall, then they’re going to build the building inside that.  So that’s what you haven’t been able to see much of, but there’s been an awful lot of work that’s gone on over there because that concrete goes down to bedrock.  So all the way around in whatever it was, 20 foot swaths or 12 foot swaths, they went all the way around the construction site and wound up back where they started -- that would have been a challenge for me.  By the way when you start one of those things, I’m not sure how they do that, but they did.  They told me it was because of GPS so it made me feel better.  

So they’ve started constructing two of the cooling towers, they continue with the excavating activity.  So, if you ask me to think what I think about the progress of that project, what I would tell you with all seriousness, but with all caution, is that we are cautiously optimistic.  We have watched them overcome some early milestones that would have, had they not gone well, and they went well, would have put a lot of risk into their schedule.  They went through those [milestones] just fine.  And so, I am cautiously optimistic as we stand here today that we should see that building completed as we expect in late summer, early fall of 2017.  And we would begin to see people moving into it, after the building had its initial outfitting, in the Summerish of ’18.  So that’s about the amount of time we’re talking about.  It’s a big project and when it’s finished we will have constructed a very, very important facility there that will have world-class capabilities for the next fifty years. 

Now, I mentioned the building for a couple of reasons.  One of the reasons I mentioned is because it’s really quite important for the Nation, but the other thing is I think it says something about the partnership that I started with. The interesting news about all this was that it was Kiewit that won the contract to construct a team with Phillips Construction Company as well.  Kiewit-Phillips is building the building.  That’s kind of having the hometown team here.  The local engineering firm HDR was also the architect and engineer for the project.  So another local firm that is a terrific partner.  And, of course, the local contingent of the Army Corps of Engineers is managing the project.  So I’m very encouraged by what I see out there.  Very excited by the outcome. 

So, as I’ve said a number of times in my talk here, the close and supportive relationship that we share is unique.  One of the highlights of my career has been interacting with the leaders of this great heartland community.  You’re all a testament to the community’s values and hospitality.  You reflect incredible patriotism and dedication to the men and women who work and serve here. 

Marj and I are going to transition out of uniformed service; I won’t say retire because that’s not what’s going to happen she has told me.  I said, “Well Honey it’s about time for me to retire and I can spend all my time with you.”—and that was a high-risk strategy on my part.  But it worked.  She said, “No, you’re going to continue to work and you’re not going to spend all your time with me.”  (laughter) So, okay, I get that part. So, I’ve now got a ‘hall pass’ and I have to get out and do some things that I really want to do.  We’re not exactly sure what that is yet.  We’re still thinking our way through this.  People ask me “what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you transition out of the uniform?” and I tell them I’m going to sleep.  I’m going to sleep for a while and when I wake up then it’s going to be time to settle down and enjoy some time with our family. 

We’re heading back to D.C.  We’re doing that because some of our family still lives in D.C., others live in Pennsylvania, so we’re closer to our families on the East Coast.  Otherwise, we would be more than tempted to stay right here with all of you.  But I can tell you that the family is pulling us pretty hard in that direction, and Marj and I are the youngest of all our siblings.  And so we have brothers and sisters who are let me just say a little farther along in tenure and experience.  And so it’s time for us to get back and be near family. 

But here’s the good news for all of you -- USSTRATCOM and Bellevue are going to gain a good friend, Admiral Cecil Haney, who is my replacement.  We’ll change command on the 15th of November [2013].  Many of you met him. He was the Deputy Commander here for almost a year when I first came back late 2010 and early 2011.  And the Senate just confirmed our new Deputy Commander, Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, who is coming; by the way, Cecil is coming from being the Commander of US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii where the weather report today was 80 degrees with wind chill of 80—just so you know.  And the weather forecast tomorrow is going to be 80 degrees with a wind chill of 80.  And the day after that is going to be 80 with a wind chill of 80.  And so you get the point here.  But Cecil has been the Commander of PACFLEET [Pacific Fleet] for the last couple of years.  He’s really excited to be coming back.  He and Bonny are looking forward to being back here in Bellevue and the Omaha area and on the Row.  Jim Kowalski is coming out of Shreveport, where he is the current Commander of the Air Force’s Global Strike Command.  He’s going to be arriving in a few weeks since he was just confirmed.  And as many of you know both of them, I certainly know both of them very well and I am confident they’re going to continue to be engaged with all of you and with the community. 

So finally, let me just summarize by saying things are going well here.  I think that this partnership with Team Offutt, including Strategic Command, is beneficial to all of you as well as it is to us.  I don’t need to remind everybody here but the annual total economic impact of Offutt and the associated commands is well over a billion dollars -- about 600 million dollars in annual payroll, about 500 million dollars in annual expenditures and about 200 million dollars in the value of jobs that are created.  So it is a mutually beneficial relationship.  We appreciate it.  I thank you for inviting me to come today.  With that, I look forward to your questions. Thank you very much.