USA — Kehler Succeeds Chilton as Strategic Command Chief

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb., Jan. 28, 2011 — Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton passed the flag of U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand to Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler today, giv­ing the nation’s nuclear deter­rent mis­sion a new com­man­der.
Chilton, a pilot who served 10 years with NASA and flew three space shut­tle mis­sions, retired after 34 years of ser­vice. Kehler assumed com­mand after serv­ing as the com­man­der of Air Force Space Com­mand at Peter­son Air Force Base, Colo.

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates presided over the cer­e­mo­ny. Out­side the hangar where the cer­e­mo­ny took place were air­craft impor­tant in the com­mand. From B‑52 and B‑2 bombers, to F‑15 Eagles, to U‑2 recon­nais­sance planes, the air­craft served as a back­drop to hon­or Chilton’s career from the Air Force Acad­e­my class of 1976 to orbit to today. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not­ed Chilton’s “detour” to being a shut­tle astro­naut.

“Across the ser­vices, offi­cers who take a detour around the ’stan­dard career path’ like Gen­er­al Chilton did rarely return to their home ser­vice, and when they do, they don’t always get the chance to suc­ceed,” the chair­man said. “It is dif­fi­cult to com­pare their val­ue rel­a­tive to their peers, so rather than embrac­ing their diver­si­ty of expe­ri­ence as a ben­e­fit, we thank them for their ser­vice and send them on to the next chap­ter in their lives.

“But the Air Force thank­ful­ly brought ‘Chilli’ … back into the fold,” he con­tin­ued, “and the Air Force, Strat­com and our nation are bet­ter for it.”

Gates thanked Chilton and his fam­i­ly for their years of ser­vice and talked of his high expec­ta­tions for Kehler. He also expressed his thanks to the men and women of U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand.

“Our nation looks to the men and women of Strat­com to con­tin­ue to pro­vide the tra­di­tion­al strate­gic nuclear deter­rent, while also tak­ing on new strate­gic mis­sions that reflect the tech­nolo­gies and threats of the 21st cen­tu­ry, most notably in space and cyber,” Gates said.

Chilton took over the com­mand when it was fac­ing chal­lenges in con­trol and account­abil­i­ty for America’s strate­gic nuclear mis­sion.

“Chilli has led the way in reform­ing the man­age­ment of the nuclear enter­prise –- over­see­ing the cre­ation of the Air Force Glob­al Strike Com­mand, pro­vid­ing more train­ing for our nuclear air­men and restor­ing the nuclear mis­sion to its prop­er place of hon­or,” the sec­re­tary said. “Chilli was also a tire­less, prin­ci­pled and effec­tive advo­cate for the New START treaty with Rus­sia –- a ser­vice for which [Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma] and I are grate­ful.”

The threats con­tin­ue to grow, Gates said, and are com­ing from new quar­ters. He spoke of his recent vis­it to North­east Asia and the dan­gers posed by the North Kore­an push to gain nuclear arms and the means to deliv­er them.

“Not only is North Korea deter­mined to car­ry out nuclear tests and devel­op ICBMs that could poten­tial­ly threat­en the U.S., they have also pro­lif­er­at­ed these dan­ger­ous tech­nolo­gies in the past,” he said. “And even as the Unit­ed States pur­sues a more con­struc­tive rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, we and our allies can­not ignore the Chi­nese military’s recent advances in mis­sile, space and cyber war­fare.”

The sec­re­tary expressed con­fi­dence that the com­mand will not lose a step as Kehler takes the reins.

“A for­mer leader of our ICBM force, Gen­er­al Kehler has spent the past three years lead­ing Space Com­mand and over­saw the stand­ing up of the 24th Air Force, our nation’s first true cyber com­mand,” he said.

Mullen echoed Gates’ sen­ti­ments.

“We are at the dawn of a new age where the space and cyber domains present a strate­gic land­scape that promis­es great oppor­tu­ni­ties, but sober­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties,” he said. “Where the click of a mouse can be as dev­as­tat­ing as any kinet­ic attack ever could and an orbital tra­jec­to­ry can become more con­test­ed than any sea-lane ever was. So as we march into this new age, I have the high­est con­fi­dence Bob is the right per­son to lead us.”

The new com­man­der called the secu­ri­ty chal­lenges fac­ing the Unit­ed States com­plex, unremit­ting and com­pelling, and said address­ing those chal­lenges requires the com­plete focus of all mem­bers of the com­mand.

“From high-end strate­gic deter­rence to con­fronting the diverse demands of hybrid and irreg­u­lar war­fare, our abil­i­ty to respond when called depends on the skill and ded­i­ca­tion of the great men and women serv­ing in Strat­com,” he said.

“Answer­ing the call means that we must pro­vide a safe, secure, effec­tive and ready nuclear deter­rent force,” he con­tin­ued. “Answer­ing the call means we must work with the oth­er com­bat­ant com­man­ders to pro­vide capa­bil­i­ties to sup­port their on-going oper­a­tions. Answer­ing the call means we must ensure unin­ter­rupt­ed capa­bil­i­ties from space and improved aware­ness of objects and activ­i­ties in space. And answer­ing the call means we must enhance the nation’s cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and ensure cyber sup­port for oper­a­tions.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Nor­ton A. Schwartz presided over Chilton’s retire­ment from the ser­vice. He called the gen­er­al an inspi­ra­tion and effec­tive leader, who through nat­ur­al tal­ent, per­se­ver­ance and a lit­tle luck excelled in all aspects of his ser­vice.

Chilton thanked the men and women of Strate­gic Com­mand and the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ty. He thanked his men­tors through the years and friends from his home­town of Los Ange­les, from his Air Force Acad­e­my class, the Air Force, NASA and beyond for gath­er­ing for his retire­ment. He thanked Gates and Mullen for their trust and con­fi­dence and sup­port. He espe­cial­ly thanked his fam­i­ly for their sac­ri­fices.

The sec­re­tary –- who spends an enor­mous amount of time fly­ing inter­na­tion­al­ly aboard Strate­gic Command’s Nation­al Air­borne Oper­a­tions Cen­ter –- took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to thank those crews.

“They’ve had the unen­vi­able task of fly­ing 600,000 miles with me to over 100 coun­tries over the past four years –- that’s a lot of bacon cheese­burg­ers,” Gates said. “I keep telling every­one the next sec­re­tary will be a veg­e­tar­i­an.

“Every time I fly,” he con­tin­ued, “I’m amazed at the impres­sive effi­cien­cy and ded­i­ca­tion of the E4‑B crew –- not to men­tion their abil­i­ty to keep that air­craft in one piece and aloft even in its gold­en years.”

Imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, the sec­re­tary depart­ed for Wash­ing­ton.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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