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DoD News Briefing with Acting Secretary Donley and Gen. Schwartz from the Pentagon

Presenters: Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz
September 25, 2008
                COLONEL MIKE CALDWELL (deputy director of public affairs, USAF): Good afternoon. I'm Colonel Mike Caldwell, the deputy director of public affairs for the United States Air Force. The acting secretary and chief will be out shortly, but I wanted to take a brief moment to clarify the purpose of today's announcement. 
 
                Secretary Donley and General Schwartz will address accountability issues in Admiral Donald's May report on the intercontinental ballistic missile force. Admiral Donald's report to the secretary of Defense followed the mistaken shipment of four ICBM nose-cone fuse assemblies to Taiwan in August of 2006.   
 
                The Air Force continues to work on the way forward with its nuclear mission, as you know. We've recently received the last of several reviews of our nuclear forces, Dr. Schlesinger's report on September 12th. We are in the process of incorporating those recommendations into the Air Force nuclear road map, which is nearing completion but still under discussion and review. We will be prepared to discuss our way ahead on our nuclear forces within the next few weeks. 
 
                With that understanding, I'd like to introduce Secretary Donley and General Schwartz. We're on the record. 
 
                SEC. DONLEY: Thanks for joining us here today. Since being designated acting secretary in June, it has been an Air Force priority to ensure that airmen at all levels hold themselves to the highest standards of performance and that all airmen therefore remain accountable for their areas of responsibilities and the successful execution of their assigned missions. 
 
                First and foremost among these assigned missions is the Air Force's -- the essential role in our nation's strategic nuclear deterrent. Air Force stewardship of the nuclear mission is a fundamental public trust. The Air Force performs many missions in support of our national security, but nothing we do is more critical and more sensitive than safeguarding America's nuclear capabilities. 
 
                As many of you know, in August 2006, four ICBM nose-cone fuse assemblies were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan. 
 
                This prompted an extensive DOD review of our missile program and associated logistics by Admiral Kirk -- Kirk Donald, which was submitted to the secretary of Defense in May. Admiral Donald and his team took on a very difficult task, and I want to publicly thank them for lending their expertise to this review. 
 
                Following receipt of the Donald report and the change in Air Force leadership, Secretary Gates directed me, working with the chief of staff, to address the report's recommendations concerning individual accountability. Specifically, the secretary asked us to determine whether and what disciplinary measures would be warranted.   
 
                He also asked us to consider whether or not those officers considered accountable can be part of the solution to the problems identified in the Donald investigation. We believe we have met this intent. 
 
                In mid-July, I established a panel to review each individual case and recommend appropriate action. The panel included retired Air Force General Thomas Moorman, a former Air Force vice chief of staff and commander of Air Force Space Command; the Honorable Martin Faga, the former assistant secretary of the Air Force for Space; and General Stephen Lorenz, the current commander of Air Education and Training Command.   These men have performed a tremendous public service, and I wish to thank them for their insights. 
 
                After careful deliberation, General Schwartz and I have decided to take action against a total of 15 officers, including six generals and nine colonels, as a result of the findings in the Donald report and our own internal review. 
 
                These actions are administrative in nature but can carry with them substantial consequences for the careers of these officers, including their potential to command, to be promoted, or to retire in their current grade. We recognize the years of dedicated service that these officers have given, but we cannot ignore the breaches of trust that have occurred on their watch.    
 
                This is difficult but necessary work. The United States Air Force is a world-class institution, and one mark of a strong institution is its willingness to be self-critical in upholding core values and high standards. We need and welcome oversight from others, but we need to police our own performance for our own sake and to retain the credibility with our service partners that we need and they need, and that the American people need, as well.   
 
                In holding these officers accountable for their performance, we've also considered the needs of the Air Force going forward in making our decisions. And we've decided that certain officers possess vital knowledge and experience critical to the nuclear mission. Since these officers are important to our ongoing efforts to revitalize the nuclear enterprise, and because their ability to serve effectively has not been compromised, it is appropriate for these officers to continue to serve in leadership positions.    
 
                The actions announced today have been briefed to Secretary Gates and to the appropriate committees of Congress.   
 
                While this closes out personnel-related actions in connection with the Donald report, there remains more to do. General Schwartz and I, together with the rest of the Air Force team, have been moving forward to rebuild confidence in Air Force stewardship of the nuclear mission. In addition to input from the Donald report, we are finalizing recommendations from the Air Force's internal nuclear task force and the secretary of Defense's task force on nuclear weapons management, headed by Dr. Schlesinger, to develop a roadmap for our nuclear enterprise. And we will announce the details of this nuclear roadmap in the next few weeks.   
 
                With that, I would ask General Schwartz to make a few comments. 
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.   
 
                I agree with Secretary Donley's comments. And I'd simply like to reinforce his points with a few words about accountability. In the Armed Forces, the standards to which we must adhere are high, and that is for very good reason. We are entrusted with the defense of the nation. In no area is that imperative greater than in the stewardship of our nation's nuclear enterprise. The very nature of the mission demands adherence to the highest standards of precision and reliability.   
 
                Today we are taking action in response to a breakdown in adherence to those standards. Those officers, these officers are good people with otherwise distinguished careers spent in faithful service to the nation. They are not -- they are not accused of intentional wrongdoing, but they did not do enough to carry out their leadership responsibilities for nuclear oversight. For that, they must be held accountable.   
 
                It's difficult to take such action on professionals who have dedicated their lives to the nation. Nonetheless, America deserves the highest standards of service, of integrity and excellence. And we can accept nothing less. The high standards are the foundation of performing the mission. 
 
                Accountability for conduct and performance enforces those standards, supports the mission and secures the trust that the nation has placed in us.   
 
                All who serve in uniform understand our obligation to the mission, to personal accountability and to order and discipline in our organizations. We will sustain our high standards, because the nature of our work depends on it. And our client, the American people, expect it.   
 
                With that, we'll take a few questions. And we'll start with Peter, if you would, sir.   
 
                Q    Thank you, sir.   
 
                General, your comments about these officers, that they are otherwise good people, with strong career records -- they didn't directly involve in these incidents, all that could have been said about General Moseley. And yet Secretary Gates felt that this accountability issue was so important that he should leave.   
 
                Why shouldn't any of these officers be held to the same standard?  
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: They have been.   
 
                Q    But none of them are departing as a result of their oversight of this part of the --  
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: They have been held accountable.   
 
                We carefully evaluated the evidence, both that which was derived from the Donald report and other documentation, associated documentation. And we came to the conclusion on what the appropriate sanctions were, sir. And in some cases, we have folks that there is a differentiation of sanction involved for these individuals. And some are significantly more serious than others.   
 
                Yes, sir.   
 
                Q    Sir, can you say, how many of these officers will be asked to stay? And if you could, give more specifics on how many generals have received career-ending reprimands.   
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: We'll provide that information upon conclusion of our session here today.   
 
                Q    Can you say now on camera for us?   
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: There were six flag officers involved. And the details of that will be provided separately.   
 
                Yes, sir.   
 
                Q    Can you add? People are going to wonder. You've gone through these folks. They've had administrative punishment. And in some cases, you're asking some to stay on.   
 
                Can you tell the American people what kind of confidence you have in these folks, in order to keep them on, understanding they have the knowledge but understanding they are also part of this, part of this investigation?   
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: The situation is that they have unique skills and capacity to serve. And we came to the conclusion, after a careful evaluation, that we could place our respective trust in their continued service. They certainly are on notice that there is no room for error here and that should they abuse this trust, it won't take but about a millisecond to react.   
 
                Q    Can you say how many of these folks have been asked to stay on?   
 
                SEC. DONLEY: That's provided in the handout.   
 
                I would add that we work with these officers. And once the severity of this situation was recognized, these officers have played a critical role in regaining control over our nuclear sustainment processes and helping us chart the way forward.   
 
                So they've played a productive role already. They are serving effectively and we think they ought to continue as part of a "get well" plan for the Air Force. 
 
                Q    Secretary Donley, were these officers all associated with the Taiwan transfer issue and Barksdale or with events going back a decade? Can you give some scope on that? 
 
                SEC. DONLEY: The focus of the Donald report was the Taiwan investigation. It did extend more broadly to the culture and the environment of the Air Force and the Air Force's support, specifically, for ICBM programs in the main. So that's where the Donald focus is.   
 
                We have not addressed any further matters on it with respect to Minot. Those matters are closed, from my point of view. We're not going to go back and second-guess decisions previously made. There's already been punishment meted out on the Minot cases previously. I would remind you there were also actions taken immediately on the Taiwan incident, so there are -- there are actions that have been taken there. We're not going to go back and revisit that. 
 
                Q    Just to follow up, then, this is not just Taiwan-related. These 15 officers -- it was involving ICBM management, possibly over the last decade? 
 
                SEC. DONLEY: Mainly over the past few years. 
 
                Q    Few years, okay. 
 
                Q    In the Minot-Barksdale incident, I believe the punishments were given out to 70 to 80 airmen of various junior rank. Is there a -- is there a signal being sent here that you are now focusing on officers of higher rank? Because it doesn't sound like anything is happening to those of junior -- 
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: I’d like to remind you, sir, if I may, that a wing commander, two group commanders and a squadron commander were sanctioned for the Minot incident. It is true there were a number of others, but there were -- there were senior officers involved in that incident as well. 
 
                This is our review of the circumstances for this particular case and our judgments apply to this particular case. 
 
                Q    The number of individuals involved, though, is substantially -- was substantially greater in the Minot-Barksdale of junior rank who received punishments, as opposed to those of senior rank in this incident. 
 
                SEC. DONLEY: The core of our work was focused on the recommendations of the Donald report in the section that dealt with accountability. And Admiral Donald's report laid out specific units that were found to have been deficient in their -- in their operations. And so we keyed off of those responsible for those units. 
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: We'll take two more questions.    
 
                Yes, ma'am. 
 
                Q    So did the Admiral Donald report recommend any -- recommend the punishment specifically, or did he just point to -- 
 
                SEC. DONLEY: He recommended that these officers be held accountable and the secretary of Defense took that advice, handed it to me to work the details. 
 
                Q    So the secretary of Defense and Admiral Donald -- no one recommended that anyone be fired for the incident with Taiwan, correct? After -- 
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: That is correct. He did not -- he did not recommend specific sanctions. 
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: Last question, please. 
 
                Q    Did you gentlemen meet with each of the senior officers and discuss what you expect of them in the future and exactly why they were being disciplined?   
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: We -- I met with each of the general officers personally and, or in one case by VTC, video teleconference. And each of the colonels was addressed personally by their respective major command commander.   
 
                (Cross talk.)   
 
                Q    You said that you took into consideration the Air Force's needs. I'm not sure which one of you said that. But isn't this going to complicate your efforts, to turn this mission around, to lose so many senior officers in one fell swoop like this?   
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: This is a question of balance, to be sure. But the fundamental consideration was, what occurred; what were the facts? And then what possible contribution could the individual make for the recovery path? And we balanced those judgments and came to the conclusions which, we think, are sound.   
 
                SEC. DONLEY: And each of those officers is in a different situation, so it was each situation.   
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: Individual.  
 
                SEC. DONLEY: Right.   
 
                Thank you.   
 
                GEN. SCHWARTZ: Thank you very much.
 
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