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20th Air Force commander reflects on Airmen’s accomplishments


Maj. Gen. Anthony Cotton, 20th Air Force commander, took time to answer a few questions and reflect on major milestones achieved in the ICBM enterprise as he prepares for the numbered air force’s change-of-command ceremony Jan. 26.


Question 1: What were some of your most significant accomplishments while in command? 

“I think it’s important to note that we as an ICBM force achieved great milestones together, and our accomplishments go to show that we are continually improving at all levels and in all areas. It’s extremely difficult for me to nail down a list that will do justice to the men and women of 20th Air Force, but there were a lot of firsts and other historical events.”    



“This year we executed the inaugural OLYMPIC FLAG exercise at F.E. Warren Air Force Base where 17 missileers from all three missile wings worked together to assess how crews perform their duties in real-time scenarios. The information collected will enhance the entire crew force so that we’re implementing best practices and lessons learned. The goal for the future is to build upon this success to create a capstone exercise that integrates operations, maintenance, security forces and support Airmen so that the entire ICBM enterprise can continually improve in every aspect of the mission.”

Missile Security Operating Concept

“We organizationally restructured the security forces groups at the three missile wings and implemented a combat deployment mindset by giving responsibility for daily security operations to one squadron commander. We want to take better care of defenders by protecting their time off, developing them both professionally and personally, and ensuring they have the tools and training to remain a lethal, combat force. This is an ongoing effort, and I know with time and feedback, it will continue to grow to help our Airmen as they secure and defend the nation’s most powerful weapon system.”


Helicopter Missile Alert Facility Refueling

“Missile Alert Facility refueling is a true combat enhancement for our force. Being able to refuel in the missile field extends the abilities of the helicopter crews and tactical response forces while they secure our launch facilities and MAFs. The 582nd Helicopter Group further developed integrated operations by participating in the first-ever, joint-training exercise with B-1 aircrews from Ellsworth Air Force Base and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. I’m thrilled with the men and women doing great things at our geographically separate units and look forward to the future as we move to replace the UH-1N aircraft.”


576th Flight Test Squadron and 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron

“Speaking of GSUs, both the 576th Flight Test Squadron and the 625th Ground Combat Training Squadron continue to make phenomenal strides in our nuclear enterprise. The 576th restructured organizationally under 20th Air Force, and their mission is vital to showcasing the most responsive leg of the nuclear triad through Minuteman III operational test launches. Our allies and adversaries alike know what we bring to the fight and our nation rests assured we stand ready to protect them against any threat. The 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron built and is executing the security forces assaulter’s courses that train defenders to be proficient in their abilities to secure and defend our assets in the missile field. This basic assaulter’s course is now the template for the Air Force’s tier one training for all defenders.  Work is currently under way to transition the 620 GCTS into Regional Training Center for tiers three and four training, as well as Leader Led Training.  We still have work to do, but I’m excited that we’re at the forefront to increase the lethality of our Airmen.”


Periodic Depot Maintenance and Data Transfer Units

“The Air Force is bringing on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent to replace the Minuteman III weapon system in a few years. That colossal effort will take the background and competence of nuclear Airmen to make that transition. Sustaining our current weapon system is also no small feat, and our maintainers brought innovation to the front lines of the mission. We scored a huge victory by implementing the periodic depot maintenance process that mirrors the standard Air Force processes for all 450 launch facilities. We also moved to modernize current operations and equipment by upgrading the legacy cartridge tape units to the new data transfer units. As a result, we increased productivity during OLYMPIC STEP operations. Again, this was no small feat, and it required a lot of hard work and innovation from Airmen executing the mission every day.”


Task Force 214 Stand Down

“As part of the reorganization of USSTRATCOM and Air Force Global Strike Command, we stood down Task Force 214 (as well as 8th Air Force’s Task Force 204); an organizational construct which had me as its commander, reporting directly to the Commander, USSTRATCOM.  Eliminating the Task Force across USSTRATCOM allows the service component commander, for ICBMs, bombers, reconnaissance and NC3, Gen. Rand, to report directly to the Commander, USSTRATCOM.  It is a much cleaner approach and falls in line with how we are taught as Airmen on presenting forces.”


Question 2: What would you like to say to the Airmen of 20th Air Force?  

“Sentinel Warriors, you ensure the ICBM mission remains lethal and stands ready. As a command we’ve emphasized continuous improvement at all levels, and you all have delivered. I can assure you I sleep well at night knowing you are responsible for the Air Force’s number one priority. Always take pride in the fact that you ensure every U.S. military action is possible because of what you do 24/7/365, and keep your swagger going strong. Lastly, make sure you strive to be compassionate leaders who understand that in order to take care of the mission, you must take care of your people first.”


Question 3: What are you looking forward to in the future?  

“I’m looking forward to integrating the nuclear enterprise into my next assignment at Air University. I want to show everyone who passes through the important mission we do every single day and how it serves as the backbone of our nation’s military strategy. I’ll also be keeping a close eye on the transition to GBSD. Mostly, I’m looking forward to the great things the Airmen of 20th Air Force will continue to do as they strive for excellence, always.”


Questions 4: Is there anything else you would like to add?  

“I cannot say thank you enough to the loved ones of the Airmen of 20th Air Force. Our mission is non-stop which results in families being separated for long nights and missing important events. We cannot do what we do without the support and understanding of our spouses, children, relatives and friends. I am in awe of the sacrifices our Airmen make and the pride they take in our mission. I will never forget the people I have met during my time as the commander of 20th Air Force who have helped me grow as a leader and will take numerous lessons learned with me in my Air Force career. I also want to say thank you to the local communities of Cheyenne, Wyoming; Minot, North Dakota; Great Falls, Montana; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, who champion our Airmen in everything they do. They make it easy for our Airmen to find a home away from home and provide a sense of support that stays with them as they defend the nation. As young lieutenant Tony Cotton and then Minot State University student Marsha Hernes, we would have never imagined we would be here today, but are forever grateful that we were able to serve with the Airmen and families of 20th Air Force and will forever cherish the people and incredible mission.”   

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