Thirty-four years ago I reported to my first assignment where I would become a Missileer. Since that time I’ve been assigned to a Numbered Air Force a couple of times, been assigned to a Major Command staff, had a series of assignments at mostly missile units, and spent time on the air staff where I helped reset the AF nuclear enterprise. With more than 20 years in the nuclear mission area, I was fairly well-prepared to take on my last assignment. The experienced guy would like to leave you with a couple of thoughts.
It’s been about four and a half months since I published the “Twentieth Air Force Vector: The State of the Force and Priorities to Enhance our Culture of Critical Self-Assessment.” Those with military identification or Air Force Portal credentials can access the document at https://20af.eis.af.mil/default.aspx. I’ve been visiting units to see how well leadership has ensured each member of 20th AF, across every discipline, has read this set of priorities. Newly arriving members should have been provided the Vector as well, so each can put their best effort forward to help us pull in a common direction. Leaders do not regularly itemize in such specific detail the global consequences that directly result from the daily performance of our most junior members, but this mission is too vital to America and our allies to leave this understanding to chance. So I am talking to each and every one of you, both through the Vector and right now.
I want to reiterate a few key points in the Vector. This should sound familiar. We are no longer a force fighting the Cold War. We haven’t been for a generation. We are no longer part of a nine-wing, 1,054 ICBM force and a 26-wing nuclear bomber force under a Strategic Air Command with more than 280,000 people. Given the size of the force, your personal contribution to mission success has never been more vital. The bench backing you up is not deep. Interestingly, for most of these intervening years since the end of the Cold War, we continued to do our jobs with roughly the same identical processes that supported a force many times our current size, a force that had so much depth of expertise in so many places; that sheer size alone both masked any process weaknesses, and contributed to daily success in ways that are hard to measure.
Fortunately for the nation, we are a team of exceptionally talented and dedicated professionals across all disciplines. Our nuclear experience levels, however, are uneven. This is true in many disciplines to include supply, logistics and medical, let alone operations, security forces and maintenance personnel. A number of mid-level technicians and supervisors come into our force with little or no ICBM or even nuclear experience. While we strive to improve experience levels, the current lack of depth in some areas against truly unforgiving standards of performance expose weakness and vulnerabilities faster, and put an even greater premium on leadership, training, quality assurance and careful development of our people.
Thank you for the superb job you are doing every day.
Because of you, the ICBM force is performing at such a high level that visiting foreign dignitaries addressing the crew force at one of our units recently said, “I want to thank you for what you do for your country every day. And I want to thank you for what you do for your allies. The credibility of this force is clear.” On another recent occasion, a first-time visitor from the Pentagon said to me, “I am so proud to be an American having seen your people. I’m inspired because you all just show up. You are always there for us, as you have been for generations.”
Because of you, the ICBM force is performing at legacy levels with a substantially smaller-than-legacy force, meaning when we are really good, we are off everybody’s radar screen. I went to Washington, D.C. a few months back and a senior AF leader told me we were doing great because we were out of the newspapers (I guess that’s one measure of merit). I replied that we need to set the bar higher because we would continue to perform at this level and I prefer the force is visible to the nation, our allies and potential adversaries – so get out in the media and talk about us more. Of course, our strategic success is measured more by our quiet, constant credibility as a nuclear deterrent force.
Because of you, and your consistent performance across all groups and all disciplines, our leaders are able to calibrate with increasing precision the quality of our training against your personal experience level, and carefully modify processes and effectively communicate across all wings. You cannot hide inside today’s current force levels—we depend on you to do your part to carry us forward every day. The nation is in good hands.
As much as you inspire me every day, here’s the tough love. When you choose to move at something other than ‘the speed of nuclear surety,’ you can put the credibility we earned yesterday at risk. We depend on your precise use of Technical Orders. We depend on perfect adherence to Personnel Reliability Program. We depend on you respecting the nuclear weapon system and nuclear surety principles and requirements. Take responsibility to keep your teammates focused.
So, as I sign off and move into retirement I am excited for the future of 20th AF because Maj. Gen. Mike Carey is the perfect choice to be the next 20th AF commander. There is absolutely no one more prepared. To Mike, Melody, Mathew, Daniel and Joseph, welcome back to F. E. Warren and the Cheyenne community. There are many, many folks who can’t wait to see you, including me!
Ana, Alex, Caroline and I thank you for your support these past two years. Thank you for the daily inspiration and for fueling my passion for you and this extraordinary mission. Best wishes to all for continued great success!