AFNWC commander reflects on tenure here

  • Published
  • By Stefan T. Bocchino
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
For nearly three years, Brig. Gen. Everett H. Thomas has commanded the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, seeing it through great changes. The new year will bring new challenges for General Thomas, as he has been selected to become the vice commander of Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

General Thomas took over AFNWC in April 2008. Around that time two big incidents happened in the nuclear world. First, was an inadvertent shipment of nuclear weapons on a B-52 from Minot AFB, N.D. to Barksdale AFB. The second incident was one in which sensitive missile components were accidentally sent to Taiwan.

He said he had three goals in mind when he took over.

"From those two incidents, right or wrong, they said we had lost focus in the Air Force on the nuclear mission," said General Thomas. "When I came in, I first wanted to grab the focus back. 'Who's responsible for nuclear sustainment?' The second thing was to regain credibility, and third was to make sure there was someone in the Air Force who stood up and said 'I'm accountable.'"

General Thomas believes those goals were not only met but also exceeded. When he first got here there were only 10 people in AFNWC. That number has grown considerably.

"We looked across the spectrum," said General Thomas. "We thought we needed about 200 people to get this done. As we marched down that path, we started defining what we needed."

During that time General Bruce Carlson was the Air Force Materiel Command commander. General Thomas said he helped tremendously with the AFNWC's earliest needs. The Center needed new senior staff in engineering, contracting, planning and requirements in addition to the directors he already had in personnel and finance. General Donald Hoffman, AFMC commander, has continued to be greatly involved and tremendously supportive.

"When we started to add those other pieces to the puzzle, it all clicked," he said. "These were some of my proudest moments. We decided to be the premier nuclear stewards when it came to nuclear sustainment."

During General Thomas' tenure many changes occurred in the nuclear mission. General Thomas said, there was more awareness of the Air Force's responsibility for nuclear stewardship. The Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff had focus periods on the nuclear mission every quarter.

"Because it gets the attention of the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, major command commanders now have the same type of attention to nuclear stewardship," said General Thomas. "That's a big change and we're pretty happy with that, because the AFNWC is right in the middle of all of those periodic reviews. Our team achieved initial operational capability, consolidated all US-based weapon storage areas under a single commander and more. As a result we have improved our nuclear culture, stabilized warhead production, given the warfighter higher alert rates with a safer force mix and laid the foundation for success as the nuclear force enters a period of increased modernization while complying with the new START Treaty and the Nuclear Posture Review."

Looking forward, General Thomas sees the pace of the nuclear mission continuing for the AFNWC.

"Using a sports analogy, I see them becoming the farm club for the nuclear brilliance and the talents the Air Force will use," he said. "Right now we have 16 Ph.D.s at the AFNWC in nuclear engineering, nuclear physics and those kinds of disciplines. Because we have them in place, they'll start growing the newest group of senior enlisted, young company-graders as well as young civilians. You will see them ramp up into really prominent roles in Air Force Global Strike Command, Strategic Command, European Command, the Pentagon, and then in Air Force Materiel Command."

General Thomas said many things stand out during his command of the AFNWC. Those include the people who helped sustain the mission, and all the mission partners who were willing to help, as well as the local community.

"What we call 'Team Kirtland,' our mission partners, every one of them came forward and said 'What can we do to help'," said General Thomas. "So we started drawing talent from them. The other thing that helped is the people of Albuquerque, who accepted us and the mission, particularly the universities around the state. They all knocked on the door and asked what they could do to help."

The universities had educational programs that were used to train people. Undergraduate and graduate students were hired directly from the universities to work in the nuclear mission.

The General said he's proud of the return of the service to its roots.

"From our beginning as a service, the Army Air Corps had a strategic deterrence mission, and we became an Air Force because we were able to sell the ability to do strategic deterrence," said General Thomas. "I think we got that back now. We just need to keep working on it."

With the change of command drawing near, Jan. 20, General Thomas said he was pleased with the Air Force's choice of his successor. Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak takes over the AFNWC. He has an extensive background in the nuclear mission.

"I think we are very lucky to have Brig. Gen. Harencak come in to take the flag," said General Thomas. "I think the Air Force leadership is backing up everything they've said in the last three-and-a-half years."