SPEECH: Armed Services YMCA Salute to the Military

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to this 38th annual Salute to the Military. A warm round of applause for Buddy Whitt and his team at the Armed Services Y for putting this outstanding event together. And thank you all for coming out, as you do every year, to enthusiastically demonstrate this community’s support for our military.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with the new Secretary of Defense, Dr. Ashton Carter. Dr. Carter is an individual who is no stranger to the State of Alaska. He has visited on numerous occasions and he plans to come back.

Dr. Carter is very much a student of geography. He fully appreciates that the shortest distance between the United States and troubled spots around the world runs through Alaska. As Senator Sullivan noted during Dr. Carter’s confirmation hearings, Alaska remains the most strategic place in the world. Dr. Carter assured me that he firmly agrees with Senator Sullivan’s characterization.

Alaska’s strategic advantage. It is a fact – not an opinion. It explains why Alaska is home to our Nation’s ground based missile defenses – a system that protects all of America.

It explains why Alaska will be home to the next big thing in missile defense warnings – the Long Range Discrimination Radar.

It explains why the Air Force has chosen to site its most advanced fighter aircraft – the F-22 and soon the F-35 – in Alaska.

Location…location…location. That explains why Alaska has always been of very high value to the Army.

One week from this Monday, the Anchorage community will come together once again, at the Den’aina Center to share our views with the Army on its potential downsizing.  I appreciate that there is anxiety among our community about the future of the Army’s presence at JBER and Fort Wainwright. So are 28 other communities that the Army is visiting.

We will enter that session arm in arm with our heads held high. That’s because we have a great story to tell and we are not afraid to tell it. We need each and every one of you at the Den’aina Center on Monday evening February 23rd to help us tell our story.

So what is that story? Yes we in Alaska treat our military better than any other community in the nation. That is the reason for this event.

But we also have the best training grounds. We sit at the confluence of three combatant commands –the Northern Command, the Pacific Command and the European Command. Our troops possess Arctic skills that will be in high demand in future challenges. And we enjoy that highly strategic location with a well-developed infrastructure that gets the Army where it needs to be quickly –quicker in fact than it can deploy from the Lower 48.

I have no doubt that we will represent Alaska well at the listening sessions. And I can promise you that your message will be heard in Washington.

The military’s future very much runs through the north. And tonight it is my pleasure to introduce the gentleman who is responsible to the President of the United States for ensuring our Nation’s security in these northern latitudes.

Admiral Bill Gortney assumed his current responsibilities as Commander of NORAD and the US Northern Command on December 5, 2014. He succeeds General Charles Jacoby, a great friend of the State of Alaska, who retired last year after a distinguished 36 year military career.

General Jacoby was an individual who thoroughly appreciated both the opportunities of the changing Arctic and the threat. Before leaving Northcom he ensured that Northcom was assigned the lead role for the defense of Alaska’s Arctic and primacy in advocating for Arctic policy in national defense planning.

General Jacoby left big shoes to fill. I have complete confidence that Admiral Gortney will embrace the challenge placed before him.

Admiral Gortney entered the Navy as an aviation officer candidate and received his commission in the United States Naval Reserve in 1977. He earned his wings of gold in 1978. As a naval aviator Admiral Gortney has over 5,300 flying hours primarily in the A-7E Corsair II and the FA-18 Hornet.  He has over 1,200 carrier-arrested landings and these combined accomplishments were achieved with zero mishaps, and that record earns you significant bragging rights in this aviation intensive state.

He has served as Director of the Joint Staff and Commander of the US Fleet Forces Command. He has held significant roles in US Central Command’s area of operations over the past decade. Now he’s ours. And we are really proud of it.

Please join me in welcoming our keynote speaker Admiral Bill Gortney and his wife Sherry to our Great Land.