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SPEECH | Nov. 15, 2013

USSTRATCOM Change of Command Remarks

Thank you, good morning. Governor Heineman, General Dempsey, General Kehler, Admiral Haney, men and women of our armed forces, and ladies and gentlemen.

This morning, we come together to honor General Bob and Marj Kehler, and welcome Admiral Cecil and Bonny Haney back to Strategic Command, and reaffirm STRATCOM's vital importance to our national defense.

Being back here at Offutt carries a special meaning for me. During my years representing the state of Nebraska, I developed a very close association with the men and women who work here, this vital institution. I gained a deep respect for STRATCOM's civilian and military personnel, and the work they do every day, every night, 24 hours a day, to protect our nation from the world's most complex and dangerous threats. Now, I have the privilege of being Secretary of Defense, andas Secretary of Defense, my appreciation for STRATCOM runs even deeper.

The success of Strategic Command depends on many things, and that includes the strong support alwaysprovided by the people of Nebraska, as well as the strong commitment of Nebraska's Congressional Delegation. As DoD continues to grapple with growing budgetary constraints and sharply reduced resources, everyone has been affected, from pilots not flying to civilians getting furloughed. And with civilians making up 60 percent of its STRATCOM's headquarters—our workforce here, STRATCOM has been hit particularly hard. But even with these difficult challenges, Bob and Marj Kehler have continued to dedicate a great deal of time to working with the local community, which has been incredibly supportive during these tough times. This has been incredibly important for our community and for this institution. And they have been incredibly supportive to this institution and this community. And this community has been incredibly supportive to STRATCOM and to our defense mission during these very difficult times.

Let me share one recent example of the kind of support this community has provided STRATCOM.

When a lack of funds threatened to close the base swimming pool this past summer, this community stepped up and generously offered to sponsor it for the season. That made a big difference for all the kids here at Offutt, but it's just one small example of the help this community has provided, provides, and will continue to provide. So on behalf of the Department of Defense, I'd like to once againexpress our gratitude to this community for all they do for STRATCOM and for your commitment to our military families.

The success of Strategic Command also depends on its leaders, and for the past three years, you have had a remarkable leader in General Bob Kehler.

General Kehler was superbly qualified for the responsibilities and high, highdemands of this position, beginning with his service in the Air Force nearly 40 years ago as a missile crewman.

Having served this command several times over the decades in many capacities, he combined a deep respect for its heritage and also a keen understanding of how it must adapt to present-day threats and challenges.

General Kehler is fond of saying that today's Strategic Command is not your father's STRATCOM, nor is it Curtis LeMay's SAC. While its fundamental mission remains the same – to deter and detect strategic attacks against the United States – it confronts a much wider range of threats and adversaries than ever before. State and non-state actors are gaining increasingly advanced and more lethal capabilities. Space and cyberspace are relatively new arenas of conflict, and STRATCOM is America's first line of defense against these threats. As much as ever, we are counting on the men and women of this command to be vigilant, and always ready for duty.

General Kehler helped prepare STRATCOM for these new realities by implementing a more flexible and tailored approach to strategic deterrence. We saw this on display earlier this year, when North Korea began a series of dangerous provocations. To reassure our Republic of Korea allies, a pair of B-2 bombers assigned to Strategic Command flew a non-stop mission from the United States to South Korea, sending a clear message of American resolve and helping to de-escalate the crisis.

General Kehler has worked tirelessly to build and maintain the space, cyber, and missile defense capabilities that STRATCOM needs for today's security environment. But he has also recognized that as long as nuclear weapons exist, this command must maintain a safe, secure, ready, and effective nuclear deterrent force. That is STRATCOM's top priority.

The hallmark of America's nuclear forces has always been the professionalism and uncompromising standards of its dedicated personnel. Perfection must be the standard for our nuclear forces. And General Kehler has vigorously enforced that standard throughout his tenure – reflecting his own background as an ICBM officer.

As you all know, this close scrutiny, and the most rigorous evaluations that we have within the Department of Defense, have recently exposed some troubling lapses in maintaining this professionalism.

To our STRATCOM professionals, I would say, you have chosen a profession where there is no room for error. That's what the American people expect from you, from all of us,and you must deliver. Americans trust you with their security, their families, and their future. They count on you.

We will continue to assure the American people that STRATCOM's professionals have the training, discipline, and leadership and capability that are necessary to succeed – even in the face of growing fiscal constraints. This is essential to continuing General Kehler's work of strengthening the nuclear enterprise's place of confidence and trust in America. Our allies must be able to count on that and our enemies must be able to clearly understand that.

This responsibility now falls to Admiral Cecil Haney, who brings an exceptional set of skills and experiences honed over 35 years in uniform. He and Bonny are well known to this community from his tour as Deputy STRATCOM Commander. He has excelled at all levels of service to our nation, including as the most recent commander of Pacific Fleet, the largest naval fleet in the world. He is well-prepared to lead this command at this time in STRATCOM's history.

Admiral Haney and Bonny, General Kehler and Marj – and to the Kehler and Haney families – thank you and God bless you all. We are veryproud of you. This community is proud of you. Thank you for all you have done for our country. We are proud of all the men and women of this command and all who serve our nation across the globe. And we are deeply grateful for their continued dedication to America's vital mission.

Thank you.