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Air Force Global Strike Command: Five Years in the Making

  • Published
  • By Yancy Mailes
  • Director, History and Museums Program, AFGSC
In an age dominated by instant gratification, some often gravitate to what has not been done, rather than recognizing an organization's success and the hurdles it has cleared.

This week we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Air Force Global Strike Command.

In thinking about AFGSC, we often expect results instantly, overlooking how the nation's priorities shifted in the post-Cold War period and how that shift deeply marked the nuclear enterprise. However, renewed interest in the health of the nuclear enterprise -- the Air Force's top priority -- has rekindled the effort to reinvigorate this community.

The journey to reinvigorate the nuclear enterprise began Aug. 7, 2009. During Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz's activation speech, AFGSC's first commander spoke of the special responsibility for nuclear weapons.

"If there is one unchanging, immutable truth about this awesome capability, it is that it demands our constant and undivided attention," he said. "This was true in the past, it is true now, and it will be true in the future, regardless of the size or composition of the nuclear deterrence and global strike force."

He also emphasized a point made by President Barack Obama in a 2009 speech in Prague, "As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies." Klotz eventually used these words in the command's motto, "To Deter and Assure."

During Klotz's tenure, the command took responsibility of the nuclear enterprise in phases.

First, in December 2009, Air Force Space Command transferred the intercontinental ballistic missile mission to AFGSC. Next, in February 2010, Air Combat Command transferred the bomber mission. Global Strike later reached full operational capability status, Sept. 30, 2010.

In addition to taking responsibility for the ICBM and bomber missions, to infuse an esprit de corps into the new command, Klotz merged the age-old bomber and missile competitions into a single AFGSC competition and christened the annual event Global Strike Challenge. These efforts, combined with the early bed-down transitions, became the bedrock that Lt. Gen. James Kowalski would build upon.

Under Kowalski's leadership, the command tackled a spectrum of issues all while continuing to deploy bombers to the Pacific and Airmen to the ICBM fields. His first challenge was to consolidate the gains achieved by Klotz and he was clear about the challenges that lay ahead.

"We've made progress...but we recognize we're not going to change a culture over the span of a couple years...culture is a product of behavior over time...from the top down we have to demonstrate and demand the values we expect...and stay focused on actions and results," Kowalski said.

To that end, he and the command attacked the issues and planned to change the culture of the nuclear enterprise. To give commanders more time to train, he consolidated inspections. To give Airmen an avenue to recommend improvements, he implemented the Strike Now program. To address resiliency issues, he introduced the various Striker programs, including the American300 Promise Tour. To build pride in nuclear heritage and the long-range strike mission, he introduced the Year of the B-52 and the Year of the B-2.

In the background of this, the command entered combat during Operation Odyssey Dawn and fought Mother Nature during the Minot, North Dakota, flood. Finally, the command advocated for funding to sustain and modernize the nuclear enterprise. As an example, these efforts bore fruit in the form of Combat Network Communications Technology for the B-52. The command also laid the foundation for future weapons systems by shepherding the Long Range Strike Bomber, the Long Range Standoff Weapon, and the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.

In October 2013, Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson took the reins of the command and was faced with an ICBM test compromise and previously identified issues. To overcome these challenges, he implemented the innovative Force Improvement Program. After gaining input from the field, he worked closely with Secretary of the Air Force and Air Force Chief of Staff, to close the "say-do" gap.

The results have been staggering, and the command and the nuclear enterprise are making continuous progress. The Air Force is providing AFGSC with the resources to make much needed improvements and updating policies to address bureaucratic challenges.

"It's a really terrific time to be in the command. We really are focused on the deterrence mission," Wilson said. "Our nation demands and deserves the highest standards and accountability from the force entrusted with the most powerful weapons in the world. There's 25,000 people that make up the Airmen and civilians of Global Strike Command...They make me really proud every single day."

In a short five years, the command has gone from activation, to taking responsibility for the bomber and ICBM missions, to identifying and confronting challenges and implementing change. Has this occurred quickly enough? Take a moment to consider the investments in people, equipment and systems and the culture shift and grassroots-level changes in the nuclear enterprise. I believe the results speak for themselves.