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Omaha World-Herald November 30, 2001

Decision on StratCom chief part of balancing act

The naming of Adm. James Ellis ensures that the Navy isn't left with only one of the country's nine unified commands.

By Joe Dejka

The appointment of Adm. James Ellis as the next leader of the U.S. Strategic Command has some longtime Offutt watchers wondering: Wasn't that chair supposed to rotate between the Air Force and Navy? Yes and no. There was a plan to rotate the spot at Offutt Air Force Base, said Ed Burchfield, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who helped with the transition from the Strategic Air Command to the Strategic Command in 1992.

But like all plans, it was only a plan, Burchfield said. "At that time, we were looking at putting an admiral in the seat of General LeMay," he said. "You had all us old Strategic Air Command guys sucking wind, saying, 'Hey, you can't do that.'"

In 1948, Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay took over the newly formed Strategic Air Command. Today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, will preside over the swearing-in of Ellis as commander in chief of Strategic Command. Attendance at the event is by invitation only.

Strategic Command, a unified command of the Air Force and Navy, started with Air Force Gen. Lee Butler in charge. Butler was followed by Adm. Henry Chiles, then Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger, then Adm. Richard Mies. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in recommending Ellis, departed from the rotation.

The appointment ensures that the Navy doesn't lose a leadership position among the country's nine unified commands. The Navy leads two unified commands, including the one at Offutt. The Army leads three and the Air Force four.

John Pike, director of Global-Security.org, said Ellis' appointment doesn't mean the administration favors the Navy leg of the Triad over Air force missiles and bombers. "The Navy is not hijacking the U.S. Strategic Command," Pike said. Pike said, however, that there is no question that ballistic-missile submarines have become a crucial element of U.S. deterrence.


Copyright 2001 The Omaha World-Herald Company