Change of Command

By General C. Robert Kehler | Omaha, Neb. | Jan. 29, 2011

General Chilton:

Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Schwartz, generals and flag officers, senior executives, senior enlisted, elected officials, community leaders, family, friends, colleagues, distinguished visitors you are one and all. Members of the United States Strategic Command, thank you so much for braving the cold and being here with us this morning.

Today is truly a day of thanksgiving for me, and let me begin by thanking the great team of folks at STRATCOM and the 55th Wing who put this ceremony together under the leadership of Colonel John Murphy and my Chief of Staff, Major General Abe Turner. They make it look easy. It's not. Thank you very much, team.


Secretary Gates, as you say, it doesn't seem that long ago that you handed me the flag of U.S. Strategic Command. It's been an exciting and challenging three-plus years that included a lot of change, but one thing that didn't change is the trust and the confidence you placed in me from day one of this adventure. Thank you, sir, for selecting me for this great command, and thank you for the support you have given me and this command.

I would also like to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your service to our nation and the sacrifices you and Becky have made which have certainly been above and beyond your initial call to duty.

Chairman Mullen, thank you for recommending my service to the Secretary of Defense, and thank you and Deborah for your steadfast service to our country. The support and mentorship you gave me throughout my tenure made this command all the more enjoyable and I look forward to the day in the not too distant future, perhaps, when we can enjoy a beer and a hotdog together in our favorite place on the planet -- Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, California. And perhaps it will even be at a World Series game!

Chief Schwartz, you and Suzie have been such great supporters and counselors for Kathy and me since we first met you over ten year ago at Bolling Air Force Base. I really appreciate all the work you've done leading the Air Force support of our critical deterrence, space and cyberspace operations at Strategic Command. And Chief, on a personal note, I'm grateful for allowing this Purple airman, if you will, to still feel a part of your Air Force senior leadership team over the past three years.

Before coming to Offutt Air Force Base I had heard of the special relationship between the base and the local communities. But I don't think anyone can truly appreciate that and appreciate how special that is until you're assigned here. The countless things that our community leaders have done to improve the quality of life for the men and women assigned to Offutt during my tenure have enhanced our ability to accomplish our missions, and all I've ever heard you ask was for suggestions on how you could improve your support. Thank you. You truly are special and I'm most grateful.

Now to the men and women of STRATCOM. Your performance over the past three years has been nothing less than spectacular. In every mission area you have taken this command to new heights with a sense of purpose and urgency that is absolutely necessary given the global threats and uncertainties our country faces today.

Our joint force enabling component commands for information operations, integrated missile defense, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and combatting weapons of mass destruction delivered top notch support not just to U.S. Strategic Command operations, but to every combatant commander in the Department of Defense.

Our component commands for global strike, for space, and for cyberspace grew in capability over the last three years, and you demonstrated your skills in several critical operations to include Operation Burnt Frost, Operation Buckshot Yankee, as well as in key exercises like Global Thunder and Lightning. Your spectacular successes can leave no doubt in any potential adversary's mind that you are the world's finest warriors in each of these critical lines of operation, and with every success you give potential adversaries pause. You are indeed America's global deterrent force, and I am proud of all that you have accomplished.

Finally, I am grateful for the tremendous leadership of each of our component commanders and the directors of the headquarters staff that have worked tirelessly to strengthen this command over the last three years.

General Kehler, I could not be more excited by your selection to take the reins of United States Strategic Command at this time in history. As a former deputy commander with vast nuclear, space and cyberspace experience you could not be better prepared for this position. Combine that experience and your visionary leadership together with this talented STRATCOM team, and I am confident great things will happen during your tenure. Kathy and I wish you and Marge every success in this great adventure. Congratulations, my friend.

Now for my entire time in this command I've been fortunate to serve with a Hall of Fame warrior and leader named Admiral Doug McClain, our Director of Global Operations. Now Hound Dog, as he is called, is known for his laser beam focus on getting the mission done, but he's also known for some of his more colorful expressions. The one I hated to hear the most, but heard too many times over the years, was when he'd walk into my office and begin with, "Boss, you just couldn't make up what I'm about to tell you just happened, because if you did, no one would believe you."

I think that's a pretty good introduction for anyone who would want to describe the unusual path I've traveled throughout my Air Force career. If someone would have guessed what it would look like 34 years ago nobody would have believed them, and trust me, it's not like I had a plan. When I left home at age 17 to join the Air Force I'd had only one goal in mind, as the Secretary said, to learn how to fly jets so I could become an airline pilot. I failed. [Laughter]. But gosh, it's been a lot of fun along the way to failure.

If I have been successful at all, it is because of so many of you gathered here today. My father Jim, who is here with us; my mother Shirley, who was unable to travel. Hi, Mom. We're videotaping this for her. They both instilled in me a work ethic, a love of God, and a respect for the dignity of all people that has served me well in every endeavor. Combine that with the unconditional love and support that both my parents and my brothers Tim and Jamie and sister Terry and their families have given me over the years, one could not ask for a stronger launching pad or support group. Thank you guys. I love you.

There are lifelong friends here from high school, the Air Force Academy, from various Air Force and joint duty assignments, and from my days at NASA. Thank you all for being here, and thank you for always being there for me and my family and for keeping in touch over all these years with a guy who only sends out Christmas cards once every five years. Okay, maybe ten. [Laughter]. Thanks for hanging with us.

It really has been fantastic being part of a joint command, having the opportunity to work with such a dedicated team of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines has been very rewarding, and seeing you guys on parade today warms my heart. You looked fantastic.

But at the end of the day I remain an airman. I am grateful for all which our Air Force has given me, which frankly is just about everything I have. You see, the Air Force gave me my undergraduate degree, my graduate education, gave me the clothes on my back, my first paycheck. They fulfilled my childhood dream to learn how to fly, and provided me with opportunities to pursue unbelievable dream jobs along the way.

But I'd have to say the greatest gift of all was giving me the opportunity to meet my wife. Kathy, I can't wait to begin to write the next chapter of our lives together, and I cannot capture in words how fortunate I am to have met you at test pilot school, or how more fortunate I am that you agreed to be my wife. You are my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, my most loyal critic, and the love of my life, and as the saying goes, you are indeed the wind beneath my wings. I love you. I thank you for all the sacrifices you have made to support me in my service over the years.

Kath, you never cease to amaze me with the way you balance and excel at being an Air Force wife, a mother of four, and an Air Force Reservist, but I suspect you come by that a little naturally given your roots. You see, I'm blessed to have the world's greatest father and mother-in-law in Brigadier General Fred Dreyer and Marge Dreyer, who are also with us here today. Thank you both for your loving support of me and my family throughout the years.

Finally, there are four young ladies with us here today who have served their country in a non-volunteer status for their entire lives. My dear Madison, Mary Kate, Meghan and Morgan. You are the lights of my life. Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made and continue to make to support your mom and me. I know it often has not been easy. I love you each so much. As we say, to the moon and back.

In closing, throughout my career I've had the privilege to serve with the absolute finest men and women in this country. Folks who understand what the word sacrifice means, but gladly and proudly serve their nation. I remain to this day a student of their trade, the profession of arms, and a student of leadership. You have all been my teachers -- enlisted, officer, civil servant. Whether senior, peer or subordinate, you have taught me much and any success I have had is a reflection of your support. I'm grateful for all of you.

In the end I've come to understand that my career has been so rewarding not so much because of what I got to do along the way, but because of who I got to do it with -- all of you.

Of late I've discovered the three most asked questions of someone in my position are -- What are you going to do when you retire? And, if you had it to do all over again, would you? And, if you could, what would you change?

As to the first, I honestly don't know, but in the near term my focus will be on trying to be better husband and father to Kathy and the four M's. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely. Except for maybe one year in the Pentagon. [Laughter]. What would I change? Only one thing? I'd ask Kathy to marry me four years earlier than I did.

Today I big STRATCOM and the Air Force farewell. I leave you with a grateful heart, a lifetime of memories, and lifelong friends that I hope can find time to come visit us in Colorado Springs. I leave with great confidence and great excitement about the bright future of this command, of our great Air Force and of the United States of America.

I pray for God's blessing on you all. Thank you, and Godspeed.