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SPEECH | May 21, 2016

55th Wing Birthday Ball

(As prepared)

Adm. Cecil D. Haney, U.S. Strategic Command commander: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, men and women of the Fightin Fifty-Fifth, good evening and happy birthday.Its great to be here with you and my family to celebrate; and how about another round of applause for our Hall of Fame inductees?

Col. Marty Reynolds, better known with the call-sign Moose, thanks for that kind introduction.Thank you for your leadership, not just as the commander of the largest wing in Air Combat Command, but also as the installation commander for 51 tenant units. Isnt it wonderful having a four-star combatant command on your base, because I know us four-stars can be just a little demanding from time to time, but you and your team handle the many requests with grace and composure.

As my bride of 38 years often reminds me, however, that grace and composure is a result of years of training by our spouses¦so Deanna, thank you for that.

In fact, our spouses put up with a lot and deserve all the praise we can give them.In general, they are used to being abandoned and are used to us being missing in action from time to time.  They also have to endure our lengthy war stories, which Im sure theres a lot of that going on tonight, and our often unrecognizable jargon.

I can understand why some are confused in military settings because when I heard your wing commander talk about bringing in Big Safari and QRC before going to Mildy and the Boulevard¦and getting Mimi a disco belt from the bread truck¦I had no idea what he was talking about. And Marty, seriously¦what are beeps and squeaks?

Its a good thing our spouses band together not only to figure out what their spouses are talking about, but as a source of strength for each other.This is especially important due to the operational heartbeat of the wing components, as well as the dispersed nature of the 55th, with families based out of Mildenhall, United Kingdom; Kadena, Japan; Souda Bay, Greece; Tucson, Arizona, as well as always having at least 500 personnel deployed.To those spouses serving at home while their loved ones are overseas, I especially thank you for your sacrifice.

Let us have all our wonderful spouses stand and be recognized, including my own bride, Ms. Bonny.

Given the legacy of this wing, its no surprise to see such a large crowd. A large crowd that might not be here if it were not for your former wing commander, retired Brig. Gen. Regis Urschler, who started this birthday ball 38 years ago.So, Id like to take a moment to thank him and all of our veterans in the audience for their service to our nation, particularly those who served here under the 55th Wing and/or here at Offutt Air Force Base.Their legacy is a cogent example of our forces today. How about a round of applause?

Now, some of you may be wondering why a Navy admiral is the guest speaker at an Air Force birthday ball; I wondered the same thing. In fact, some of you might be wondering what a Sailor is doing in Nebraska, which is about as far away from the water as a Sailor can get.As I often tell people, this is what happens to a Sailor whose performance at sea is not so good.

In fact, my performance at sea must have really stunk, because this is actually my second tour to U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). But as Bonny and my daughter Elizabeth will attest, we love this very patriotic community that has such vibrant energy.

What is there not to love?College World Series, the worlds best zoo, Olympic swimming trials, great secondary schools, top-ranked universities and medical facilities, the number two city to live in the U.S. as ranked by Money Magazine, the 2016 Defenders of Freedom Air Show, and  big city feel without the D.C. traffic.

It is truly a community that not only welcomes our military, but is very active in supporting all of Offutts workforce and their families. And weve got tremendous community leaders who are always out supporting our events.

Gov. [Pete] Ricketts, Reps.  [Jeff] Fortenberry and [Brad] Ashford, Sens. [Bob] Krist and [Jim] Smith, as well as Mayor [Rita] Sanders, I cant thank you enough for all you do for Team Offutt and all the tenants it hosts, including U.S. Strategic Command. If you havent already done so, I hope you will stop by and thank them for their support.

This evening we are here to celebrate the history of the 55th Wing and boy, do you have a lot to celebrate. Not only does this year mark the 70th anniversary of Strategic Air Command, an organization from which you draw much of your rich heritage, tonight we also celebrate an incredible legacy. A legacy from pursuit to reconnaissance aircraft, and a legacy of 75 years as the Fifty-Fifth, 50 years at Offutt Air Force Base and 25 years of continuous, back-to-back deployments to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

We celebrate this evening not just for historys sake, but because the 55th Wing has played a prominent, exciting and very important role in the writing of United States and world history, and it continues to do so today.

Born as the 55th Pursuit Group and re-designated as the 55th Fighter Group, this wing has certainly come a long way since its 1941 activation at Hamilton Field, California.  

With the primary role of escorting and protecting Americas bombers over the skies of Nazi Germany, these pursuit aircraft were not just integral to allied victory; they were legendary flying over Normandy during D-Day invasions, destroying enemy aircraft throughout the allied advance into France and supporting ground units fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.

As with so many organizations following World War II, this group was deactivated¦but not for long.

By the late 1940s, a new threat was emerging, and as the Soviet Union looked to expand its influence around the world, the newly activated 55th Reconnaissance Group watched them in every corner of the globe. Performing aerial photography, mapping, charting and eventually electronic reconnaissance, the crews of the 55th helped Strategic Air Command and the rest of the U.S. military track and prepare to counter the growing military threat of the Soviet military.

As the Cold War ramped up, reconnaissance capabilities proved more critical than ever, particularly during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Surveillance aircraft, including those of the 55th, determined that the Soviet Union had shipped, and indeed placed, nuclear missiles on Cuban soil “ an action that President Kennedy called a clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.   While political brinksmanship took place between Washington, D.C. and Moscow, the 55th remained active throughout the crisis and were clearly essential in averting global disaster.

While the Cold War eventually ended, the demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets did not.As the Gulf War kicked off,  the men and women of the 55th Wing found themselves not just collecting strategic intelligence over Russia and elsewhere, but also gathering intelligence data over the deserts of the Middle East and the mountains of Afghanistan for use, in near-real time, by the warfighters.

This new method of collecting and delivering actionable intelligence data was a turning point in how commanders viewed these capabilities. For almost 26 years, the high-demand, low density strategic assets of the Fightin Fifty-Fifth have been on every combatant commanders wish list¦and for almost 26 years, the Fightin Fifty-Fifth has remained on the hunt in continuous combat operations.

I dont see that demand changing anytime soon, because todays strategic environment is perhaps more complex, dynamic and volatile than at any point in our history.Just a glance at media today provides us a look at the ongoing operations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots around the globe.We are faced with the evolving challenges of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, and we are part of an international campaign to defeat violent extremist organizations “ such as ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and others “ which are recruiting and operating across political, social and cyberspace boundaries.

You “ the 55th Wing “ are involved in all of these challenges, and you continue to operate at an unrelenting operations tempo.You are also generating such a legacy that even the Russians want to get close to you!

Over the past year, you flew more than eight and a half thousand hours and more than 1,100 combat sorties delivering intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; command and control; and electronic attack “ supporting and protecting coalition warfighters.

Id like to provide a couple of specific examples. Since this is a celebration, if I call out your mission, I encourage you to make some noise.

·      The EC-130H Compass Call deployed to Afghanistan with the mission of jamming enemy communications, thus preventing attack on U.S. forces.

·      The RC-135S Cobra Ball responded to emergent threats, collecting intelligence on sensitive targets in five nations, driving updates to U.S. and allied theater missile defense plans.

·      The RC-135U Combat Sent increased our defensive capabilities by picking apart the DNA of near-peer adversarys integrated air defense systems.

·      The E-4B crews, serving as the National Airborne Operations Center, travelled across 25 countries supporting the president and secretary of defense, ensuring their ability to stay in command and control during a crisis.

·      The crews of the OC-135B enhanced strategic stability with Open Skies treaty monitoring, flying dozens of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over participant nations, including Russia, to gather information about military forces.I should also note they won the Association of Old Crows CSI4 Award for their work in support of Ukraine.

·      The WC-135 Constant Phoenix flew missions to collect particulate and gaseous debris for analysis of Kim Jong-Uns recent alleged nuclear test in North Korea.

·      The Strategic Communications Squadron ensured nuclear command, control and communications availability, providing the primary communications platform for transmitting emergency action messages to the nuclear forces, as well as guaranteeing the ability to rapidly retarget any our 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

·      Finally the RC-135 V/W Rivet Joint and the crew of Python 71, who won the prestigious General OMalley Award for being the best reconnaissance crew in the Air Force in 2015, for their efforts in countering ISIL. Their actions ultimately resulted in more than 140 enemy killed in action, an ISIL compound destroyed, and an accurate air and ground picture for more than 7,500 troops.How about a round of applause for the extraordinary crew of Python 71?

Its impossible not to take a moment and note that part of this Python 71 mission also included three U.K. allies, highlighting our Rivet Joint partnership.While none of our U.K. allies were able to attend this evening, Marty please pass on my thanks to them¦because building, sustaining and supporting partnerships is critically important in this complex world with stressed military budgets.

I also have British liaison officers on my staff, who were also unable to join us tonight; I see a theme here. But Id like to briefly recognize my Australian and Danish liaison officers who are in the audience: [Royal Australian Air Force] Group Captain Chris Miller and [Royal Danish Air Force] Lieutenant Colonel Kim Bech.

Now Ive spent some time talking about operations, but I recognize that it takes a village to achieve mission excellence.   

We need stellar maintainers to keep these planes flying because, as you all know, these planes are in their mature phase of life¦and as my daughter would say, a little bit like me.

Thats why its great to have Aerospace Ground Equipment maintainers such Tech. Sgt. Brian Osman.His efforts, both at home station and while deployed overseas in Iraq, have been instrumental in both returning aircraft to fully mission capable status¦as well as establishing a long-term maintenance and training program for the Iraqi Air Force.

We cannot overlook the care provide by Airmen like Airman 1st Class Charles Whelan, who performs medical treatment, diagnostic, and therapeutic procedures ensuring personnel are fit and mission ready¦or Mr. Mark Borytsky, the chief of protocol, who was instrumental in the planning of not just tonights event, but that of all the distinguished visitors that the 55th Wing hosts, including our president.

While unable to be here celebrating with us this evening, its great to know we have Airmen such as Airman 1st Class Eric Case and Senior Airman Jerry Rhodes, who are on duty at the base entrance gates tonight, both protecting our base and our assets. Please stop by and thank them if you happen to travel back through those gates on your way home.

I hope you get the point that no matter whether you are military or civilian, and no matter your role you all contribute to the team effort and we simply could not do the job our nation needs us to do without each and every one of you.

I am immensely proud of the men and women of the 55th Wing. Each of your missions directly ties and positively impacts my priorities at U.S. Strategic Command, and I cant thank you enough for your passion and your unrelenting commitment.

While I realize not all of you wake up every day thinking about USSTRATCOM, I bet your wing commander actually does wake up every morning wondering what the four-star, or his three-star neighbor, my deputy, Lt. Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, might call him about today.Moose, given the wonderful efforts of your team this evening, I promise not to call you tomorrow.

Once again, on behalf of U.S. Strategic Command and my fellow combatant commanders, thank you for all that you do, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, in support of our warfighters around the globe, especially in the U.S. Central Command, Pacific Command and European Command areas of responsibility where you are working overtime. We know the sun never sets on the Fightin Fifty-fifth!