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Defense secretary: Increase focus on nuclear mission

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates speaks to top Air Force Space Command leaders June 10 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Secretary Gates also held a question and answer session in the open forum. (U.S. Air Force photo/Duncan Wood)

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates speaks to top Air Force Space Command leaders June 10 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Secretary Gates also held a question and answer session in the open forum. (U.S. Air Force photo/Duncan Wood)

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Gen. C. Robert "Bob" Kehler arrive at the base auditorium June 10 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The Defense secretary spoke to senior Air Force Space Command leaders. General Kehler is the commander of Air Force Space Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Matt Lohr)

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Gen. C. Robert "Bob" Kehler arrive at the base auditorium June 10 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The Defense secretary spoke to senior Air Force Space Command leaders. General Kehler is the commander of Air Force Space Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Matt Lohr)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke candidly to Air Force Space Command members here June 10 about the resignation of top Air Force officials and problems of leadership and accountability in the control of nuclear assets.

He charted a new course for the Air Force leaders at all levels.

"The harsh reality is that the Donald Report documents a serious decline over at least a decade in the Air Force's nuclear mission focus and performance, resulting in a degradation of authority, standards of excellence, and technical competence of the Air Force's nuclear mission," Secretary Gates said.

His direction to all Air Force leaders throughout the chain of command is to take charge, establish accountability, look for problems and fix them immediately; listen to, and where appropriate; act on the concerns of the force and raise the bar to the highest possible standards. Secretary Gates' visit here and to two other key commands is, effectively, a demonstration of what he expects from his subordinate leaders.

"This will yield a service that is -- from the very top to the very bottom -- more reflective and more responsive to shortcomings that may arise in this (nuclear) or any other critical area," Secretary Gates said.

Secretary Gates directed the command to do two specific things: "Embrace accountability in all that you do, for everything in your area of responsibility. When you see failures or growing problems in other areas -- outside your lane, as it is often described -- throw a flag: Bring them to the attention to people who can do something about it."

Second: "Rededicate yourselves to the standards of excellence that have been the hallmark of the U.S. Air Force for more than 60 years."

The secretary of Defense had high praise for the historical and current contributions of Air Force members, citing the service of the 25,000 Airmen deployed in harm's way every day and the indispensable contributions made to the ongoing wars in the areas of logistics, and space, among others.

"You have been forward deployed, and at war for 17 years - since the first Gulf War," he said. "Your families have borne this burden and the Air Force has its own fallen heroes -- often struck down while serving on the ground alongside Soldiers and Marines."

The final thought the secretary left for command members was positive.

"I have every confidence in you and in the Air Force that has served our country so well," he said. "From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for everything you do to protect the American people."