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New Air Force secretary sworn in; charged with restoring confidence in nuclear mission

Jan. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
James SECAF ceremony MWM 20140124
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James is joined by her husband, Frank, and children Michelle, Regina and Sam while being sworn in Friday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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Deborah James was publicly sworn in Friday as the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force against the backdrop of missteps in the nuclear missile community that prompted her three-day tour of bases earlier this week.

James, who has been on the job since Dec. 20, did not address in her speech the string of security issues involving the airmen who man Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Most recently, investigators looking into reports of drug abuse at the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., uncovered a cheating scandal involving 34 officers.

She praised the airmen she has met during her tour of bases, including this week’s visits to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and Malmstrom.

“No matter where they are — launching a satellite from our facilities in Florida, guarding a missile silo in the Great North as I saw earlier this week, refueling an airlifter over the Pacific, providing close air support in Afghanistan, or facilitating personnel and budget policies in the Pentagon — our security depends on our airmen,” James said. “Our remarkable Total Force airmen give life to the very best Air Force in the world. Under my watch, I’m committed to keeping it that way.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said James’ experience as a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee and in the private sector, and her “swift, decisive, and thoughtful response” to problems in the nuclear missile community over the past month have shown she is a strong leader.

Restoring confidence in the Air Force’s nuclear mission will be James’ top priority, Hagel said. He announced Thursday that the Defense Department is conducting a review of the U.S. military’s entire nuclear enterprise.

“I am deeply concerned … about the overall health, professionalism and discipline of our strategic forces,” Hagel said Friday. “Recent allegations regarding our ICBM force raise legitimate questions about this Department’s stewardship of one of our most sensitive and important missions.”

He said he will regularly meet with James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh to “ensure this issue has the highest level of attention.”

“Whatever the factors — historical, institutional, cultural — the Department of Defense and the Air Force will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety, security, reliability, and effectiveness of our nuclear enterprise — because our security will depend on it for many years.”

James served as assistant defense secretary for Reserve Affairs from 1993 to 1998. She was president of the technology and engineering sector at Science Applications International Corporation when she was nominated to replace former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, who retired in June.

She said her goal is to “leave our Air Force on a path toward greater capability and better affordability for our taxpayers, while always keeping in mind the people who underpin everything and who are second to none.”

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