Secretary Discusses Candid Meeting With Airmen at Langley
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va., June 9, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he was pleased with the give-and-take he had with about 400 Air Combat Command airmen at the base theater here today.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates listen’s to an airman’s question at Langley Air Force Base, Va., June 9, 2008. Gates spoke with about 400 Air Combat Command airmen to hear their concerns, assure them of their value in the war on terror, and to explain why he asked for the resignations of the Air Force’s top civilian and military leaders. Defense Dept. photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jery Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“I felt I needed to look them in the eye and tell them why I made the decisions I made,” Gates said.
Gates explained why he felt he had to ask for the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley following a report delivered to him about nuclear security lapses.
Following a 20-minute speech, the secretary asked local and traveling reporters to leave so he could take questions from the airmen “unvarnished and straight from the shoulder.”
In an interview later with reporters traveling with him to Colorado, Gates spoke about the challenges facing the Air Force leadership team he has proposed of Michael B. Donley as Air Force secretary and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz as chief of staff.
Fixing the nuclear stewardship issue is the most important task for the new leadership team, he said. Nuclear deterrence is going to become more critical, not less so, in the future, the secretary said. He said the rising threat of nuclear proliferation is one reason for his conclusion.
The second important task the new Air Force leadership team will face is “figuring out how to get the modernization program back on track,” he said.
Air Force tanker procurement is at least 10 years behind where it should be, Gates said. The new team will have to figure out “how to work with the Congress and get this thing done.”
There also needs to be a decision by the next administration on the balance between the F-22 fighter and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and then “just getting on with it,” Gates said. “End the debate, make a decision and move on. ‘Start getting stuff built’ is just so important. The tankers we are flying today are the tankers I rode in as a second lieutenant in 1967.”
Gates discussed Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald’s report on the Air Force handling of the nuclear mission. “It seems to me that … maybe the most important conclusion in Admiral Donald’s report is that authority and responsibility for the nuclear program is split among multiple commands,” he said. “There is no unity of command and no one person responsible for setting the standards for evaluation and for maintaining the professionalism, security and so on of the force.”
The military must fix the division of responsibility that has prevented any one person being responsible for making sure that standards are kept, he said. “Ultimately, one of the principal root cause of these problems is there is no one person in charge or who has responsibility. I think you can fix that without re-creating the Strategic Air Command.” SAC stood down in 1992, and Air Combat Command assumed many of its responsibilities.
The secretary said the airmen at Langley asked him if they would get the money needed to fix the nuclear problems – the money for training, career development for test equipment and so on. “I told them that while the nuclear program had not been a high priority, the amount of money required to make the necessary fixes are relatively modest,” and that he was sure he could get the money from within the Air Force or Defense Department.
Langley is home of the 1st Fighter Wing, which has operational F-22s, and Gates said airmen asked him if the real reason for the change in Air Force leadership was because of a disagreement over F-22 procurement. “I told them it was not true, and the issue had been settled for some weeks,” he said. “I had made the decision that we would allocate enough money to keep the production line open so the next administration could decide on the balance between F-22s and Joint Strike Fighters. It’s a significant procurement decision that ought not be made in the last six or seven months of an administration.”
The secretary told reporters he chose Schwartz as the new Chief of Staff because he “brings fresh eyes to these issues. He’s very smart, very process-oriented. The changes he has made in Transportation Command have been pretty dramatic.
“It was mobility, jointness, special operations and being very, very smart” that led him to the choice of Schwartz, Gates said.