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Gates Hammers Home Importance of Air Force Nuke Mission

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., June 10, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates gave a very quick synopsis of the goals of his tenure in office here today.

“We are damn sure … going to spend and do everything necessary to win the wars we are in, to care properly for our wounded, and to restore excellence in our nuclear stewardship,” Gates told airmen assembled at the all-ranks club here.

Gates traveled to Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Peterson AFB, Colo.; and here over the last two days. He said he wanted “to look airmen in the eye” to explain his reasons for asking for and receiving the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley on June 6.

“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,” Gates said. “It is a tremendous responsibility -- one we must not and will never take lightly.”

Gates told the airmen that the only reason he asked for the resignations was because of the degradation and systemic weaknesses in the Air Force’s nuclear weapons program.

“To be sure, the investigation did not find anything that would affect the health and safety of the public or our men and women in uniform, or call into question the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear arsenal, or place at risk the integrity of the nation’s nuclear-deterrent forces,” he said. “In that light, you might ask, ‘What’s the fuss?’”

The report -- prepared by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of Navy Nuclear Propulsion -- documented 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.

Gates also is counting on a commission headed by former defense secretary and energy secretary James R. Schlesinger to look at all aspects of the nuclear-deterrent force. Schlesinger will look at the role of the Defense Logistics Agency, U.S. Strategic Command and all other agencies touching on the nuclear mission.

All servicemembers must embrace accountability, Gates said.

“When you see failures or growing problems in other areas -- outside your lane -- throw a flag,” the secretary said. “Rededicate yourselves to the standards of excellence that have been the hallmark of the United States Air Force for more than 60 years.”

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

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