“Moving in the Right Direction”

That is the view of the Air Force’s ongoing efforts to “reclaim” excellence in its nuclear enterprise that Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed during a visit Dec. 1 to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Gates traveled to Minot, home to nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and ICBMs, after accepting President-elect Obama’s request that he stay on as defense secretary “a while longer.” Gates told about a thousand airmen gathered in a B-52 hangar, “I wanted to tell you in person that, as stewards of America’s nuclear arsenal, your work is vital to the security of our nation.” In his remarks, the former Air Force intelligence officer who served at a missile unit in the late 1960s, Gates called last year’s “serious lapses” in USAF’s nuclear stewardship “unacceptable,” producing “serious consequences” from the unit level to the ouster of the Air Force’s two top leaders. Now, he said that the Air Force is moving to correct a “long-standing slide” that led to a lack of proper attention and funding and adequate manning. He declared that the “tremendous responsibility” inherent in the nuclear mission demands “the attention, the people, and the resources to do the job right.” Gates admonished the assembled airmen to “never take their duties lightly,” but he also added: “Yours is the most sensitive mission in the entire US military. I am confident it is in good hands.”