Twenty years ago, Lt. Col. John Hyten moved from Colorado Springs to Offutt Air Force Base to become the last commander of the 6th Space Operations Squadron, which operated weather satellites.
Hyten, now a four-star general, is back for his second and last tour at Offutt, this time at U.S. Strategic Command in charge of America’s nuclear, space and cyber defenses.
“I can’t help but notice how life sometimes comes full circle,” Hyten said Thursday, during a change of command ceremony. “It’s great to be back here at Offutt. Now, the circle is complete.”
Hyten, 57, took over the StratCom mantle from Adm. Cecil Haney, who had held the post for the past three years. A veteran of the Navy’s submarine force, Haney, 60, is retiring after a 38-year career.
Hyten is the 11th senior officer to command StratCom, which was created in 1992 to replace the Cold War-era Strategic Air Command.
Nearly 1,000 people, most of them military and civilian employees of StratCom, attended the ceremony, held in a giant aviation hangar that houses the E-4B Nightwatch, the National Airborne Operations Center aircraft. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both attended, as did Nebraska Reps. Brad Ashford and Jeff Fortenberry.
Accompanied by drumrolls, Haney’s four-star command flag was furled. He handed it to Carter, who presided over the ceremony. Then the StratCom banner was unfurled, and Carter handed it to Hyten.
“I’m really proud to turn over to someone I can call a friend,” Haney said.
Hyten takes over StratCom with international tensions at a post-Cold War peak, including nuclear saber-rattling by the leaders of Russia and North Korea.
He nodded to those threats in his first speech to StratCom.
“The world is still a very dangerous place, and those dangers seem to be building daily,” he said. “We never want to go to war with nuclear weapons. We never want to go to war in space, or in cyberspace.”
Hyten said he admired the motto of the Strategic Air Command, which also was based at Offutt: “Peace is Our Profession.”
“It meant that, in order to keep the peace, we had to be ready and willing to fight the most unthinkable war at a moment’s notice,” Hyten said. “That motto is still true. We never want to go to war with nuclear weapons. We never want to go to war in space, or in cyberspace. But in order to keep the peace, we must be ready and willing to fight these kinds of wars.”
Hyten brings to StratCom experience in the futuristic area of space warfare. For the past two years, he has led the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, which oversees the launch and maintenance of military satellites and other high-value payloads.
Carter, who presided over the ceremony, praised Hyten’s contributions and pitched him as the right leader for StratCom.
“John’s helped build a more resilient national-security space enterprise,” Carter said. “That’s something he’ll continue to do here at StratCom. There’s more to be done to confront the 21st century threats we face.”
Despite the international threats facing the country, some experts have said Hyten’s stiffest challenge may come at home: persuading a tight-fisted and frequently dysfunctional Congress to fund the largest overhaul of the nuclear arsenal since the Reagan administration.
Carter said the nation needs to replace its fleet of strategic bombers, ballistic-missile submarines, and land-based missiles — all parts of the air-land-sea nuclear triad. Total costs are expected to exceed $350 billion over the next 15 to 20 years.
“We’re beginning to correct for decades of underinvestment in our nuclear enterprise,” Carter said. “We’re replacing many weapons systems, because we can’t afford to lose them.”
Calling the nuclear arsenal “the bedrock of our national security,” Hyten said the upgrades are his highest priority.
“There’s no doubt the nuclear triad of this nation has to be modernized,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if we’re going to do it, it’s how we’re going to do it. And we will figure that out, because we have to.”
StratCom commanders typically serve from two to four years. That means Hyten will likely be in charge when StratCom begins moving into its new $1.2 billion headquarters, which is being built near Offutt’s Capehart Avenue gate. The move is expected to begin in about a year.
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Gen. John E. Hyten
Family: Wife, Laura; two children
Born: Huntsville, Alabama
Education: Harvard (1981), bachelor’s degree in applied science and engineering; Auburn (1985), master of business administration
Prior Command: Aug. 2014–Oct. 2016, commander, Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
Top Awards: Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster; Defense Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters