2012 STRATCOM Update

By General C. Robert Kehler | Omaha, Neb. | March 9, 2012

General Kehler:

Thanks for that very very kind introduction and thanks to the Bellevue Chamber for inviting me to come and give what has become an annual update on STRATCOM. I can't think of a better audience to give such an update to 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 of course those of you who make up our next door neighbor, the community of Bellevue. So Madame Mayor, thanks for being here. It's always a pleasure to see you, and let me just offer the same blanket thanks that I offer all the time for the great support we get from the community and from all of you that are here today.

I don't know if it's just me, maybe it is, but this is the third time that Marge and I have been assigned in Nebraska, and it seems to me as though the winters have gotten progressively milder. I said that the other day, and someone then reminded me we weren't here two winters ago when you had about that much snow and it was really brutally cold all winter. So it reminds me that if I say too much about the weather I will jinx this and next week we'll probably have a blizzard or something. So it's not my fault if that happens now, just to say that up front. I am okay with the weather.

I do know, though, the old adage about Nebraska is true. If you don't like the weather, just wait. Fifteen minutes from now it won't be this way. But certainly today it seems as though spring is beginning to be felt, and I can't wait. Mr. Buckles is already scheduling tee times, so life is good. We're on that historic cycle of golf, no-golf, golf, no-golf.

One of the reasons why it's so easy to come back to Nebraska is because of this tremendous support that we receive from Bellevue and the whole greater Omaha area. There's a reason for that. The reason is that Bellevue and Omaha and the military have a relationship that goes back 144 years. It goes all the way back to something that was called Sherman Barracks that was stood up here in 1868. Those of you that are keeping score, of course that's three years after the end of our Civil War. And from that time until today the United States military in one flavor or another or in all flavors as it is today, has been part of the community here.

I say this when I give talks around town. It's not that we live in this community, we are this community. We have grown up with Omaha and Bellevue, and I think that shows. We don't feel like we're outsiders, although I still think that's largely not because of this long relationship, because while physically the military has been here, individually the military members have not. They come and you welcome them. And you welcome them as if they have been your neighbors for 144 years. We feel that. And as you heard from at least part of my bio, I can make a judgment, I've been stationed other places. And while we get wonderful community support in virtually every place we're assigned, there's something special about this community and we thank you for it.

Fort Crook was built in the mid-1890s, here from 1868 and went through Fort Omaha, and then Fort Crook came about in 1894. My house that I'm living in today -- the house that I'm living in at the base was finished in 1896 and from 1896 until today that house has been continuously occupied by the senior commander at the installation. Since 1948 it has been continuously occupied by a four-star officer, and that was Curtis LeMay in 1948, all the way through the Kehlers today. That's an extraordinary legacy that we have with this community and it's an extraordinary attachment -- We were just talking and joking at the table here about whether or not we could find a home that had any more steps in it, and the answer is no. [Laughter]. I defy you to find a house that has more stairs in it. But I will tell you there's something deeply connecting about living there. And while I don't believe that any of those houses are haunted, some would believe that they are. I sit there some evenings quietly and I can hear my predecessors, and I can hear their pouring over the problems of their day, and I can hear them talking about the great support that we get by living here.

So we have had a very interesting legacy with all of you and I think that the future looks very very bright. I suspect that someone will stand up here maybe 50 years from now and look back and say, you know in 2012 there was this base here and a house with all these steps, and we're still here. That wouldn't surprise me in the least. I don't plan to be here. [Laughter.]

In 1948 we established Strategic Air Command here. By the way, Strategic Air Command in those days was older than the United States Air Force. It was a command that was formed while it was still an Army Air Force, before it was the United States Air Force. In 1966 the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was established here, and it became the present-day 55th Wing in 1991. In 1991 the 55th Wing deployed forward into the Persian Gulf as part of the initial set of aircraft that went forward, and initial military power for Operation Desert Shield, and they are still there today. They have been continuously deployed since 1991. They're not all there, but a pretty substantial contingent has been there since 1991. I think that's also phenomenal.

The new Strategic Command was stood up really in 1992 at the end of the Cold War. The Strategic Air Command was stood down and a new joint command was stood up. In 2002 we redid that. We stood down the old Strategic Command and stood up the one that we have today. We've added to it since, and we continue to evolve.

When I speak around the community I remind people that there's the old saying, I believe it's an old Chinese Proverb, "May you live in interesting times." Unfortunately, we do. And more unfortunately, we don't get paid to live in interesting times, STRATCOM gets paid to deal with interesting times. That has become a big challenge for us. Because as I also tell audiences everywhere, we have never seen an operating environment like the one that we have today. It is different in many many ways, and all you have to do is look back over the events of the last year, since the last time that we had an opportunity to speak together and look at all the things that have happened. Look at the Arab Spring that has turned into an Arab year. Look at the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which was the one-year anniversary yesterday. Look at the operation to come to the assistance of loyalists in Libya. Look at the withdrawal from Iraq. Look at the continuing operations in Afghanistan. Look at the concerns that we have today for Syria and Iran. Look at the change of leadership in North Korea. I could go on with my list. All of those are changes that are occurring in this constantly changing and very very complex world that we live in. And through all of this Strategic Command has had the same focus. 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 are able to employ military force when we're directed to do so by the President.

That sounds simple. It's not a complicated mission in concept. It is extraordinarily complicated in today's global environment and execution.

Here's the good news. We have the world's best people doing it. You should be very very proud of them. I am. I am privileged to be their commander.

One of the interesting things about being a general officer of any rank, and there are others in the room, and in particular being a general officer of four star rank, is that we get to stand in front of groups like this and take credit for things that we don't do. The good news is that we've got the world's best people that are working with us to make the country's safety and security grow. And you can be assured that you have such people next door to you here at Offutt Air Force Base in the United States Strategic Command.

There is a new reality today. That new reality is a restrained fiscal climate. That's the polite way of saying budgets are going down. What we know is that we have a responsibility to be part of a national solution to our financial difficulties. We understand that part of that solution has to come from our ability to be more effective and efficient with a smaller defense budget. Here right back after the first of the year the Secretary of Defense and the President stood up and announced a new Defense Strategic Guidance that will allow us to shape our way forward in this fiscal environment. We know that as the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen used to say, the country's fiscal security is our national security so we have a role to play in making sure that we can deal with that.

This new Strategic Guidance document that came out in January that describes how we're going to deal with today's very interesting times and the realities of fiscal challenges that we face is worth your time to read. It's available. It's an unclassified document. It's available on the DoD web site. And I would commend it to you because while there are no specific combatant commands like Strategic Command mentioned in the document, nor is there any military service specifically mentioned in the document. If you read it, you would come to the conclusion that I have come to, and that is that STRATCOM is all over that document, and all you have to do is read what it says about the importance of the Asia Pacific area, the continued importance about dealing with international terrorism, the issues in the Middle East, our continued commitment to our long-time allies in Europe and elsewhere. Those are global issues and this is a global command. Our job is to be able to deal with the kinds of circumstances that we find today and to bring to bear the kinds of global capabilities that can make a difference not only for the Secretary of Defense and the Commander-in-Chief, but in support of those commanders that are deployed around the world to do the nation's business.

There are a number of mission areas that are mentioned in this new document, and I'm just going to read through them because you know what STRATCOM does with our responsibility to have a secure, safe and effective nuclear deterrent force which is still our bread and butter, but also to be the responsible command for the Department of Defense's space activities, for our cyberspace activities, make sure that we have an integrated missile defense that's a global defense system that works, to make sure that we have our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets pulled together in a way that we can take those scarce resources like the 55th Wing and put them into places where we need them the most. Those are all things that we're responsible for. Combatting weapons of mass destruction, to make sure that we are prepared to prevent or then deal with the country's perhaps greatest threat which is the combination of a violent extremist and a nuclear device of some kind.

With all of those responsibilities in mind, the ten mission areas that are listed in the new Strategic Guidance read like this. Counterterrorism and irregular warfare, where we play a role; deter and defeat aggression, which is the primary purpose of strategic command; project power, even in the face of what we would call anti-access strategies that some of our potential adversaries have come up with to keep us out of certain places around the world; counter weapons of mass destruction; operate effectively in cyberspace and space; maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent; defend the homeland; provide support to civil authorities; and the list goes on. We contribute to all of those. And as I say, it's apparent to me that Strategic Command has a major role to play as we go to the future.

So this guidance from the Secretary of Defense in the new Strategic Guidance document is pretty clear. We are to recalibrate our capabilities. We're to make selective investments. We're to make sure that we can succeed in these mission areas. And we're going to base how we go forward on a set of priorities that are based on the requirements that we have to accomplish the mission.

They're tall orders, and our job is to make difficult choices to implement the strategy, but I believe that we can do that. And in my role as the commander, I also have the role as an advocate. I'm supposed to advocate for capabilities that we need to make these missions come true.

So we have some priority needs, and in another week and a half I'm going to have the opportunity to appear for the first time on Capitol Hill this year to testify on what I think the way forward needs to be for our country's strategic deterrent activities to include our nuclear deterrent, space, cyberspace, and the other things that I mentioned. There are things that we need to do.

I mentioned some of my own staff we're at a difficult place at a difficult time. Many of our capabilities need to be recapitalized. We need a replacement for the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine. We need a new bomber. Here's one thing that may have been here in 1868. Had you been able to see it there was probably a B-52 sitting out there. [Laughter]. The B-2, the nation's newest bomber, is now well over 20 years old. So we need a new tanker because these marvelous aircraft and this global capability relies on flying gas stations, and those
KC-135s 2343 built on Boeing 707 airframes that were the hot item in 1962. Or even earlier, fifty-eight. So we need to invest.

An interesting thing about space, every satellite on its way to orbit is on its way to death. They have a finite lifetime. You can't go up and reservice them. There's no equivalent of a tanker in space. So you have to launch a new one.

Our needs in cyberspace are growing. You all know that. You all are connected in cyberspace. Some of you are connected as we're sitting here. You have your cell phone with you, you've got your Blackberry with you, you have your iPad with you, and we live in a connected world today. The very advantages that brings to us create national security vulnerabilities that we have to address.

So there are a lot of constants that we are dealing with in today's world and one of those is people that we are fortunate to have in our all-volunteer force. We recognize that we must maintain faith with them.

An interesting thing about an all-volunteer force, and this year marks my 37th year in the United States Air Force. It doesn't seem possible, but 37 years. I will tell you, 37 years ago I did not join a bad Air Force but today's is better. It's a lot better. Not because of the phenomenal hardware, but because of the phenomenal people that we have. They are volunteers. They come to serve their country. If they were sitting here and you asked them, "Why did you join?", and it wouldn't matter which of the services you asked, they would give you a variety of reasons. They probably wouldn't say I want to serve my country. They would get to that eventually. But they would say I wanted to make a better life, I wanted to get education, I wanted to see the world, I wanted to do a lot of things. But when you press them, they would say I want to serve my country, and that's what they're here for, and they do it magnificently.

We've got the best people we've ever had, and we need to be careful that we keep it that way. There are some things that might be fragile and the all-volunteer force, while I don't think it's fragile, will not become fragile provided that we pay attention to it. That's where we all come in. Not only are you advocates for a strong national defense, but I recognize that you are advocates for our people, and that to me is the most important thing that we do together, is make sure that those youngsters that come here. The old joke about, "I got orders to go to Omaha and I didn't know where that was, so somebody told me to look under the staple on the map." [Laughter]. These kids don't do that anymore. If you said staple on the map they'd say, "What's a staple?" They would say, "What's a map?" Why do you need a staple and a map? You can't put a staple in a computer screen. That's how they would find it today. I would zoom in, it would show them everything that had an overhead satellite image of Omaha, it would show them where they're going to live, everything. But they still don't know what they're
getting into until they get here. And when they get here, what they find is that these are wonderful places to live. And yup, there are interesting seasonal changes in the weather here, sometimes in the same day, but it's a phenomenal place to live. The cost of living is low, relatively speaking, and the quality of living is high. Those of you who have care over the Bellevue school system should be proud of yourselves with the quality of education that you're able to provide. Children who are children of military members are the beneficiaries of that. Not just in Bellevue, but of course the Omaha public schools, and Papillion public schools, Gretna and the list goes on. So it's a great partnership that we have.

Let me mention just a couple of things that are local issues before I wrap up and take a question or two.

First of all, I think everyone is aware that we have had plans to construct a new command and control facility at Offutt to take the place of the building that we occupy today that looks really okay from the outside, but when you look at facilities today, you don't just look at them for their effectiveness in providing office space. In our case it's about what we do there, and that's about command and control of nuclear and space and cyberspace activities. That requires enormous commitments of what we would call IT infrastructure, Information Technology. Computers, fiber optics, all the things that go with that, and the power that needs to support it and the air conditioning that it needs to keep it cool. We don't lose a lot of heat in the building. We try to get rid of heat in many of the office spaces and areas. And if you look at the building from the outside and you say that looks like a pretty good office building, it is. But if you looked at it from an IT perspective you'd run away screaming into the night. We are maxed. In fact we're beyond maxed. On most days we're holding our breath there that we don't have some catastrophic failure. We went through that about a year and a half ago. Not on my watch, I tell Kevin Chilton that whenever I talk to him. [Laughter]. It wasn't my fault. But I will tell you this, it was a good thing that we had Navy people when the flooding began. [Laughter]. They understand damage control. When the water's coming in you want a Navy guy in the room with you. When other things are happening, you may not want a Navy guy, but when there's water coming in you want a Navy guy because they practice that. I will tell you that there were heroic efforts not just from the Navy, of course, but form our partners in the 55th Wing and from the community ultimately, that has been in there still repairing the damage over a year later from --

I'm not an electrical engineer, but I can tell you when you submerge large electrical transformers and other electrical equipment in six feet of water, it's not good. That's my professional education. That's not a good thing at all.

So I believe we're moving forward. Here's why I can't tell you for sure, because I'm not in the process to select a source and do the contracting and all that. The Corps of Engineers does that. And for all the reasons that we separate those things, I can't be involved in all of that. But I'm told that we are progressing well. I am still optimistic that about the time we start to complain about the heat, I think we're going to be putting our foot on a shovel out there to break ground. That's the way it looks today. But I won't know until the Corps comes to us and says we have picked someone to build this building. The budget side of this looks okay to me, I think we are able to go forward. I think everything remains on track. And certainly as I stand here today everything looks good to be breaking ground about the time that we start griping that it's too hot instead of too cold, or too wet, or rainy, or whatever it is that we gripe about.

Another issue that's been on everyone's mind I think is our charge to get leaner. That usually means shed people. We've converted contractors to full-time civil service billets. I can tell you that's going pretty well. There was a hiring freeze for a time that did not affect STRATCOM. It did affect the Air Force out at Offutt. It did not affect Strategic Command. So we continue to hire and we continue to go forward with increasing the numbers of government civilians that eventually will be working for us.

The first time that I was assigned to Strategic Command when it was SAC was in 1982, I think. If you weren't born then, just leave the room. [Laughter]. I would tell you many folks in the room, we served together in those days in the headquarters. You would walk around in that headquarters then, and you rarely saw a civilian. The civilians were typically secretarial, cleric, kind of folks. By the time we were finished with this conversion Strategic Command Headquarters will be 65 percent civilian. Very interesting. Fewer and fewer and fewer uniformed military.

That's not a bad news story. That's a good news story. Why? Because we are able to keep many many many experienced people when they leave the uniformed side of our business and become civilians. We are also able to offer internships for youngsters who are able to be part of, to begin to sample government service and interestingly through Creighton and the University of Nebraska system, we have hired some wonderful, wonderful young people when they become college graduates who participate with us.

So I think we are moving forward well there, and I believe that that will continue. But I must say there have been hurdles to get over. Not all of our contractors converted. We've had some tough times with some of our contractors. I'm hopeful that we will be able to work our way out of all of this.

The final thing that I have to say though, is the defense budget's heading down and ultimately we are going to see changes. STRATCOM's budget portfolio is supported pretty well, but it's not without impact, the budget reductions are not without impact. So that will begin to come out typically in systems and those kinds of things. The Air Force is going to have fewer aircraft, the Navy's going to have fewer ships, the Army is getting smaller by some tens of thousands, as is the Marine Corps. So changes are occurring. There are changes in the National Guard. There are changes in the reserve components. I think ultimately you're going to see this taking almost half a billion dollars out of the defense budget over ten years was not without difficulty. So now we'll see how we go forward.

In conclusion, just let me say that I believe that at Strategic Command things are going well. I am not a glass half empty kind of a person. I believe that we understand our mission with great clarity. I believe that we are performing our mission with great effectiveness. I believe we are performing our mission with the best people we can possibly have living with the greatest community partners we could possibly want.

So from my perspective when people ask me how is it going at STRATCOM? What I tell them is it's going very well, and I believe that it will continue to go very well at STRATCOM as we go forward together.

Thanks very much.