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SECDEF praises Airmen, discusses leadership changes

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Cindy Dorfner
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reassured Airmen of their value and contributions, and presented a way ahead to ease wartime strain during a visit to Air Combat Command here June 9.

In describing the Air Force's oft un-acknowledged efforts in the war on terrorism, he said he realized the costs of war and the strain on the force is a reality for Airmen and their families, and that he's working to ease the burden.

"Since Sept. 11, the Air Force has flown more than 1 million missions -- ranging from lift to medevac to close-air support -- including tens of thousands of sorties flown over America's sky to protect our homeland, many out of this base. Your contributions have made a lifesaving difference to those fighting on the ground," he said. "Put simply, without your contributions in the sky, and in many cases on the ground, America's war effort would simply grind to a halt."

In response to the burden of being forward deployed and at war for more than 17 years, he said he's immediately stopping personnel cuts in the Air Force.

The announcement and visit came just four days after Secretary Gates accepted the resignations of Michael W. Wynne, the secretary of the Air Force, and Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff.

Secretary Gates told the nearly 400 Airmen in attendance at the base theater that he wanted to visit Langley Air Force Base, as well as Peterson AFB, Colo., and Scott AFB, Ill., to address the leadership changes and related issues "head on" and to explain his decision in more detail.

He said there has been "no shortage of speculation" regarding the change in leadership, mostly whether there were reasons beyond those he mentioned June 5. Those reasons dealt with leadership failures associated with control of nuclear weapons and equipment, he said.

The secretary said the Air Force has lost focus on the sensitive mission of the protection and safety of its nuclear arsenal. He noted a "serious decline over at least a decade in the Air Force's nuclear mission focus and performance, resulting in a degradation of the authority, standards of excellence and technical competency of the Air Force's nuclear mission."

The internal report documenting the service's problems regarding the nuclear arsenal was not the "last straw" for Secretary Wynne and General Moseley, Secretary Gates said. He said that while he and Air Force leaders have had disagreements, he has also disagreed with the other service chiefs.

"It is important to establish up front that, were it not for the findings of (the internal report) regarding systemic problems and weaknesses in our nuclear weapons program, the leadership changes would not have taken place," he said.

Secretary Gates said the Air Force must refocus on its nuclear mission.

"Our policy is clear: We will ensure the complete physical control of nuclear weapons and we will properly handle their associated components at all times," he said. "It is a tremendous responsibility -- one we must not and will never take lightly."

Secretary Gates asked President George W. Bush June 9 to nominate Michael Donley, currently the Defense Department's director of administration and management, as secretary of the Air Force, and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, currently commander of U.S. Transportation Command, as Air Force chief of staff. Mr. Donley served as the Air Force's top finance officer from 1989 to 1993 and then was the acting secretary of the Air Force for seven months in 1993.

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