01/17/2014: Speaking to troops in Wyoming, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed the need to maintain and modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Credit: Pentagon Channel:1/9/14
The following story was published by Wyoming News:
By James Chilton [email protected]
CHEYENNE — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel paid a visit to F.E. Warren Air Force Base on Thursday, delivering a message of gratitude to the men and women serving there for their work in safeguarding America’s nuclear deterrent.
Hagel, formerly a two-term Republican senator from neighboring Nebraska, is the first secretary of Defense to visit the base since Caspar Weinberger, who came here in 1982.
Hagel said he enjoyed the opportunity to tour F.E. Warren’s facilities, including one of its missile alert facilities.
“I grew up in little towns not far from here,” Hagel said. “So it was kind of fun to come back and see some of the areas that I am very familiar with.”
Having assumed the office of secretary of Defense just last February, Hagel said one reason he chose to visit F.E. Warren was to see its operations for himself.
He also wanted to offer encouragement to the personnel stationed there, acknowledging that while missile defense is critical, those involved in the work may feel unappreciated.
Hagel addressed officers and airmen after a series of security lapses and discipline problems that were revealed in Associated Press news stories in 2013.
Officials have said the service members are increasingly tired of working in what can seem like oblivion.
They win no battles, earn no combat pay and only rarely are given public credit of any kind. “Sometimes I suspect you feel that no one cares or no one’s paying attention to you, but we are,” Hagel said.
“We are the strongest country on Earth, and we want to continue to be the strongest country on Earth, but it takes people. It takes leadership. It takes commitment. “That’s something that just doesn’t happen,” Hagel added.
“And what I saw out here today … just reconfirms n and I will tell the president this as I give him my report on this trip n about that commitment.”
F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which is headquarters for the organization in charge of all 450 U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles, has about 3,100 enlisted airmen and officers and saw 12 courts-martial in 2013, compared with nine the year before, 12 in 2011 and eight in 2010, according to Air Force statistics provided to the AP last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
In each of the past four years, the courts-martial rate at F.E. Warren was higher than in the Air Force as a whole.
Before his Wyoming stop, Hagel flew by helicopter to a Minuteman 3 missile launch control center in Nebraska. Besides Nebraska, the missiles are in underground silos in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota. Each launch center, buried 60 feet or deeper underground, controls 10 Minuteman 3 missiles, each in its own silo.
Hagel stressed the need for the U.S. to continue maintaining its nuclear arsenal in a safe, capable and effective manner. He said he remains committed to that focus, adding that the nuclear deterrent remains one of the most effective means of preventing war.
“There is no more noble profession in the world than your profession to keep peace in the world,” he said. But Hagel also acknowledged that things haven’t been easy of late for the military, pointing to last year’s federal government shutdown and the budget strains caused by sequestration cuts. “We closed our government for 16 days, we lived in a world with no budget, with tremendous uncertainty,” he said.
“But I’m confident as we go forward the next two years and we establish a budget agreement that will help stabilize us in our commitments and our planning.”
Hagel took questions from three of the roughly 130 personnel who attended his speech. One, Tech. Sgt. Laura Paul, asked Hagel what he would take away from his experience at the base.
“How impressed I am with what I’ve seen,” Hagel answered.
“The professionalism of each of you, of the units, of how you work together as a team. I think that is first that stands out.”
He also added, having seen a missile alert facility firsthand, that the military must continue its focus on modernizing its nuclear deterrent. “It’s clear we’ve got some work to do on modernization,” Hagel said.
“And that’s why all of us in leadership positions must come out and see things at the ground level.”
Another attendee, 1st Lt. Klint Holscher, asked Hagel what he sees as the future of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile force and the nuclear triad (which includes ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and traditional bombers).
Hagel said the emergence of new challenges and threats, such as cyber warfare, means that the U.S. will have to analyze all of its military programs to ensure they evolve to meet those threats. The nuclear triad, he said, should be no exception to that, though he also agreed with the need for the U.S. to reduce its number of nuclear missiles.
“We’re going to continue to require every element of our nuclear deterrent in the triad,” Hagel said. “But reducing those nuclear weapons, I think, is important. Every president since Richard Nixon has supported that, and I think President Obama deserves great credit for leading on this as he has.”
Hagel referred to Obama’s signing of the “New START” treaty in 2010, along with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The treaty, which went into effect on Feb. 5, 2011, calls for the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers to be reduced by half, with the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads reduced to 1,550 by 2018.
The final question came from Senior Airman Shelby Ferguson, who asked Hagel whether he saw the Air Force budget stabilizing in the future.
Hagel said that a bipartisan budget agreement reached by Congress last month should provide some predictability for at least two years, though he acknowledged a more long-term agreement will be needed beyond that period.
“Right now, the law of the land, after that two year period, reverts back to the so-called sequestration, which continues to take huge reductions from our defense budget,” he said.
“The numbers are better than they were because we’re getting some money back, but there are still tens of billions of dollars that we didn’t get back and won’t get back over the next two years.”
Hagel said he and the president would continue to push for Congress to provide a more long-term source of stable funding for the military.