is a question frequently asked by local residents to any one of the 43 submarine officers stationed at the United States Strategic Command located on Offutt Air Force Base (AFB) in Omaha, Neb. While duty in Nebraska seems to be far from the “typical” shore duty assignments, submariners actually have a long-standing presence at Offutt Air Force Base. Our presence dates back to the 1960s when the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff was formed to be the general nuclear war planner for all U.S. Forces. While reporting directly to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff was dual hatted as the Commander in Chief of the Air Force Strategic Air Command. Thus started a tradition of submariners serving in the Heartland of America, a tradition that continues nearly 50 years later.
Submariners became “plankowners” in the new joint United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) when it was created in 1992 as part of the Goldwater-Nichols Act that directed establishment of the unified command structure. While initially focused solely on nuclear deterrence, USSTRATCOM’s responsibilities greatly expanded with the issuance of the 2002 Unified Command Plan. Today, USSTRATCOM’s operational missions are to deter attacks on U.S. vital interests, to ensure U.S. freedom of action in space and cyberspace, and to deliver integrated kinetic and non-kinetic effects to include nuclear and information operations in support of U.S. Joint Force Commander operations. In addition, USSTRATCOM supports Department of Defense (DoD) and other combatant commanders to synchronize global missile defense plans and operations, to synchronize regional combating of weapons of mass destruction plans, to provide integrated surveillance and reconnaissance allocation recommendations to the Secretary of Defense, and to advocate for joint capabilities in all mission areas.
With 1120 [submarine officer] billets in both the USSTRATCOM Headquarters and the co-located Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike (JFCC GS), there are opportunities for submariners to serve at any point in their career path — from their first post junior officer sea tour all the way through flag officer. In the past, submariners have served as Commander, USSTRATCOM and currently, Vice Adm. Van Mauney, a submariner, is the Deputy Commander. Also located in Offutt, Rear Adm. Frank Caldwell serves as the Deputy for JFCC Global Strike. Nearly all submariners receive joint duty credit and have the opportunity to complete Joint Professional Military Education (JPME). The submariners at Offutt AFB proudly serve as joint warfighters, applying their professional expertise toward the accomplishment of the entire range of USSTRATCOM’s missions.
The JFCC GS “Air Room” under Capt. Mark VanYe, who reported to USSTRATCOM from his tour as commanding officer of USS Maryland, is responsible for supporting the nation’s strategic deterrence and the operations of our nuclear capable forces. Of the 41 military officers assigned to the Air Room, approximately one third are submariners. For Lt. Tom Rubenstein, who served as a junior officer on the USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735), duty in the Air Room has been particularly rewarding. According to Rubenstein, “As a submariner, it’s been a great experience working closely with so many people from other branches of service, as well as from other communities within the Navy. I now have a better realization of how our unique background positions us to be incredibly competent in a joint environment. Even as a lieutenant, I have a job that makes a material difference to the nation’s strategic plan, while still having enough free time to pursue graduate education or JPME. As a former SSBN junior officer, working on the creation of the strategic plan has really helped to give me a better appreciation of how SSBN deterrent patrols fit into the strategic puzzle.”
Submariners at USSTRATCOM not only support our nuclear deterrent forces, but also serve in critical nuclear command and control positions. Some submariners stand watch in the USSTRATCOM Global Operations Center as Strike Advisors, responsible for providing timely advice to senior leadership in time of national crisis. Four submariners are currently assigned to the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC). Lt. Cmdr. Andy Clark found the transition from Strategic Weapons Officer on USS Wyoming (SSBN-742) to flying as a NAOC team member to be both challenging and rewarding. According to him, “after some initial culture shock in seeing how the other services operate, I found that my background in submarines prepared me for the fast pace of operations so I wasn’t overwhelmed. On 20 or 30 hour flights, it also helped that as submariners we’re used to fairly tight spaces. It was very interesting to go from one end of the nuclear command and control spectrum to the other, and routinely interacting with general and flag officers has helped develop my confidence in dealing with senior leaders.”
When USSTRATCOM’s mission broadened beyond nuclear deterrence, so did the roles of submariners at USSTRATCOM. Capt. Brian Humm, former commanding officer of USS Buffalo (SSN-715), is the Capability Resource Analysis Division Chief. In this billet he supervises a team of more than 50 officers and civilians who analyze the entire range of USSTRATCOM’s mission set to determine future requirements. He says, “You would think that the space mission set would be completely different than operating a submarine, but, similar to submarines and nuclear power, the first question you have to ask is ‘What is the technically correct answer?’ That perspective is an advantage that our experience and training provides us. Plus, it’s fun.”
Lt. Matt Powell, who served as a junior officer on USS Rhode Island (SSBN-740), finds, “the work that I do here at USSTRATCOM is just as interesting as the work submariners do out in the Fleet. I plan Information Operations options against a variety of adversaries and I am routinely afforded the opportunity to input my thoughts and ideas at a strategic level that I was rarely exposed to while underway. Working at USSTRATCOM has broadened my understanding of the ‘bigger mission,’ and has shown me the important role that submarines play in that mission.”
In addition to the professional rewards of duty at USSTRATCOM, Nebraska is a great place for shore duty. According to Lt. Dave Ruth, who came to Omaha from Rhode Island, “The Omaha area is a wonderful place for families. We live within 15 minutes of all the major attractions and about 20 minutes from the base. We are members of the world class Henry Doorly Zoo and the Omaha Children’s Museum which are great family activities. Last year we attended the College World Series which was an amazing experience. During the summer and fall my wife enjoys shopping at the Farmers Market in the historic Old Market area. I love the almost endless paved trails perfect for running and biking. Overall we love the Omaha area. I am extremely fortunate to have spent my shore duty in the Heartland.”
While the specifics of an answer to the question, “What is a submariner doing in Nebraska?” may vary widely depending on the duties of which submariner you happen to ask, as a whole, you can say that they are serving their country in a challenging and rewarding manner.
Capt. Fry is the Operations Plans Division Chief, Joint Functional
Component Command Global Strike at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska