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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

National security and the heartland

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Official Senate hearings are common place in our nation's capital but they are rare in our nation's Heartland. Frankly, there needs to be more in the interest of government transparency. It's an excellent opportunity to bring government closer to the people and people seem to like it.

We had a packed room recently for an official meeting of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which I chair, when it was convened not far from Offutt Air Force Base, home of the United States Strategic Command.

The significance of holding this hearing in Nebraska reinforces the role our state plays in national security, especially when it comes to America's nuclear arsenal which is under the control of STRATCOM. Maintaining a safe and secure nuclear deterrent is their most important job, but as we heard at the hearing, there is much more.

In Depth Discussion

This oversight hearing was the first in-depth examination and discussion of U.S. Strategic Command's activities, concerns and challenges for the coming year, and beyond.

For the Nebraskans who had the opportunity to be there, the hearing gave them an excellent opportunity to hear interesting details directly from the person in charge about what this command means to the security of the United States and the economy of Nebraska.

Besides being in charge of the nation's nuclear forces, General Robert Kehler, STRATCOM's commander, talked about its broad role in national defense, from protection of a cyber attack on the U.S. to B-2 stealth bombers that flew round-trip from the U.S. to Afghanistan and Iraq to bomb their targets.

He talked about unmanned aircraft such as Global Hawks, Reapers and Predators that help forces in Afghanistan gather intelligence by providing the eyes in the sky and the firepower needed to track or even attack Taliban and other enemy forces.

A Role in the bin Laden Operation

He even talked, to the extent he could, about STRATCOM's role in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. For security reasons he was unable to go into detail but said they were involved in supporting the mission. In fact, General Kehler noted, not a single military mission takes place in the world without the support from STRATCOM people or assets.

Space

One of the more unusual aspects of the Nebraska-based mission is that STRATCOM is in charge of keeping track of space junk. Space is full of debris that is traveling at thousands of miles an hour and can damage satellites. It's STRATCOM's job to provide advance warning to avoid collisions.

Jobs and the Economy

Besides its role in national security, STRATCOM is extremely important to Nebraska's economy, bringing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the state. It's important to keep its facilities modern and efficient and continue on track toward planning and construction of a new facility to replace its half century old headquarters, which is needed for STRATCOM to meet its modern responsibilities.

=Field hearings help bring government closer to the people. This one certainly helped showcase one of our finest facilities and why Nebraskans are justifiably proud of the role our state plays in providing national security.


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