U.S. Strategic Command Change of Command

By Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary Robert Gates | Omaha, Neb. | Jan. 28, 2011

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN: Governor Heineman, Senator Johanns and distinguished guests, I'm so pleased you and many of the Nebraska state, federal and local government representatives can be here today.

The citizens of the greater Omaha area have opened their arms to generations of service members, government employees and the families of Strategic Command, providing endless possibilities to live, work and thrive here in America's heartland. Thank you for your support and providing such a wonderful home to the leaders of our national strategic deterrence efforts and global war-fighting capabilities in space and cyberspace.

I also want to thank the men and women of the United States Strategic Command and your families, for your service, your sacrifices and your sustained commitment to being both the nation's sword and its shield. We ask much of you. You're a critical, enduring part of the best military in our history.

You have been led, for the last three years, by an officer who I can honestly say has no peer. In fact, the Chilton family is a military family that fits that description as well. It's not an exaggeration to say that General Chilton literally has gone from the ground up. As much as all that experience speaks to General Chilton's personal and professional quality, it also speaks volumes about the Air Force as an institution.

Across the services, officers who take a detour around the standard career path, like General Chilton did, rarely return to their home service. And when they do, they don't always get the chance to succeed. It's difficult to compare their value relative to their peers. So rather than embracing their diversity of experience as a benefit, we thank them for their service and send them on to the next chapter in their lives.

But the Air Force, thankfully, brought Chilli and later, your J-5, Lieutenant General Susan Helms back into the fold. And the Air Force, STRATCOM and our nation are better for it. And so is Chilli because if you saw him throw out the first pitch in Los Angeles last fall, then you know he isn't - or at least shouldn't be - expecting a call-up from the Dodgers anytime soon. (Laughter.)

Our mutual friend, Tommy Lasorda, who I might add, is a great supporter and advocate of our service members and their families, once said, when you start thinking of pressure, it's because you started to think of failure. Fortunately for us, General Chilton has rarely, if ever, thought of pressure.

The ability to persevere under pressure is a vitally important trait for a test pilot and an astronaut like Chilli, but is an imperative for those charged with safeguarding, maintaining and if needed, employing our strategic deterrent capabilities.

General Chilton, when he took over, pledged to learn the nuclear business inside and out before he arrived here at STRATCOM. He has done that. And he went on to make a positive, lasting change at a time when the nation really needed it. His efforts paved the road for ratification of the New START treaty, a treaty that he and I both believe will help preserve our strategic security for years to come.

Combine that with a successful deorbiting of a wayward satellite which was a whole-of-government effort in every sense of the term and add in the standup of CYBERCOM and it is clear that Chilli has never let the thought of pressure or failure enter his mind. He also pledged to help lift up our nuclear enterprise and he has done that at a vital time.

And I'm sure all of that has prepared him well for his next role, Mr. Chilton, a full-time spouse to Brigadier General Cathy Chilton. And Cathy, Deborah and I want to say thanks to you for your service in uniform but also to your service and dedication to our families. We know how much you care and we will never forget what you've done as well. (Applause.)

Chilli is also - will be there as a father to their daughters, Madison, Mary Cate, Megan and Morgan, all of whom are here today. And the Chiltons are a family hardwired to serve. And I want to let each of you know that I appreciate and the nation appreciates all that you have done and continue to do to support one another and in your life of service. So from us today to the Chiltons, in nautical terms, we wish you fair winds and following seas. Thanks, Chilli. (Applause.)

Chilli, as you and Cathy and your family depart this command, we both know it's being left in the most capable of hands. General Bob Kehler and Marjorie follow you here like they did at the Air Force Space Command. And as they return to STRATCOM, I know that they will build upon what you and Cathy have done here and will continue to find new and innovative ways to meet our nation's 21st-century challenges.

Bob has spent a career leading in all of STRATCOM's core mission areas and he has a true passion to leverage these capabilities for the joint force. We're at the dawn of a new age where the space and cyber domains present a strategic landscape that promises great opportunities but sobering responsibilities, where the click of a mouse can be devastating as any kinetic attack ever could and an orbital trajectory can become more contested than any sea lane ever was.

So as we march into this new age, I have the highest confidence Bob is the right person to lead us. I look forward to your leadership, Bob and to working with you. And I welcome Marjorie's continued support for our wounded warriors, their families and the families here at STRATCOM. Welcome back.

It is now my great honor to introduce a leader whose charm and good looks are only exceeded by his dedication to our nation. There is no one I have met who cares more about what we're doing and cares about our people and their families - no one. I'm blessed to see it every single day.

And also, if you listen to him, there won't be many more opportunities to say thank you for what he's done. So please join me in welcoming our secretary of defense, Dr. Bob Gates. (Applause.)

SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: Thank you. It's great to be back here in Omaha and at Offutt Air Force Base. I can't help but recall personally that it was 44 years ago this month that as a brand new second lieutenant, I entered the headquarters building here. So it's always a special honor to be here.

It's been a great pleasure to be here with you on this important occasion today. And I would also like to say there's a sense of déjà vu because I remember being here to hand Chilli the flag when he took command and now, to take it from him.

I'd like to start by acknowledging the Chilton family, especially Chilli's wife, Brigadier General Cathy Chilton and their four daughters who must boast to schoolmates that when they sit down to family dinner, it's with - not one, but - two generals at the table.

Today, I want to pay tribute to General Chilton and his three decades of military service, welcome General Kehler, express my appreciation to the men and women of the U.S. Strategic Command and say a few words about the important role you play in our larger mission.

I'd like to start with a personal word of thanks to the STRATCOM personnel who operate the National Airborne Operations Center. They've had the unenviable task of flying 600,000 miles with me over 100 countries over the past four years and that's a lot of bacon cheeseburgers. I keep warning everyone the next secretary will be a vegetarian. Every time I fly, I'm amazed at the impressive efficiency and dedication of the E-4B crew, not to mention their ability to keep that aircraft in one piece and aloft even in its golden years.

Visiting this organization carries a special meaning for me as I spent most of my time as an Air Force lieutenant, serving in the old Strategic Air Command. I well understand the pressure under which you work and the occasional pitfalls, some serious, some less so.

For example, one day in 1967, we were told there was a problem with the war plans. SAC headquarters here in Omaha needed to change the launch sequencing for all the missiles immediately. So we at Whiteman ordered pizzas and worked all night to fix the strike execution control documents using - and here, I'm really going to date myself - large, unwieldy sheets of laminating paper. The next morning, we received a call from a major in one of the launch control capsules. Turns out that one of SAC's new targets had become a carefully laminated piece of pepperoni. (Laughter.)

General Chilton once said that he joined the Air Force because he really wanted to become a United Airlines pilot and he didn't know how else to get flight training. (Laughter.) Well, Chilli, after logging 5,000 flight hours in the Air Force plus over 700 hours in space piloting three different shuttle missions, I think United might just move your résumé to the top of the pile. (Laughter.)

General Chilton took over STRATCOM at a time when as you all know, we were facing some real challenges in control and accountability for America's strategic nuclear mission. Chilli has led the way in reforming the management of the nuclear enterprise, overseeing the creation of the Air Force Global Strike Command, providing more training for our nuclear airmen and restoring the nuclear mission to its proper place of honor. Chilli was also a tireless, principled and effective advocate for the New START treaty with Russia, a service for which the president and I are grateful.

I recently returned from a visit to Northeast Asia, where the importance of STRATCOM's mission, in all of its components, is keenly evident. Not only is North Korea determined to carry out nuclear tests and develop ICBMs that could potentially threaten the U.S., they have also proliferated these dangerous technologies in the past.

And even as the United States pursues a more constructive relationship with China, we and our allies cannot ignore the Chinese military's recent advances in missile, space and cyber warfare. Our nation looks to the men and women of STRATCOM to continue to provide the traditional strategic nuclear deterrent while also taking on new strategic missions that reflect the technologies and threats of the 21st century, most notably in space and cyber.

I believe few people are as well suited to carry this command into the future as General Bob Kehler, a former leader of our ICBM force. General Kehler has spent the last 3 years leading Space Command and oversaw the standup of the 24th Air Force, our nation's first true cyber command. Bob, I look forward to seeing the great things you will be able to do here at this vital command. Good luck to you and I know you will accomplish great things with your wife Marge by your side.

Chilli, thank you for a life of dedicated and selfless service to our nation. I wish you and Cathy all the best as you begin the next chapter in your lives. (Applause.)