With Friday's groundbreaking for a new U.S. Strategic Command headquarters concluded, construction details and a timeline on the project need to be determined in the coming weeks.
And one of the key challenges for the military personnel at Offutt Air Force Base is ensuring the safety of the critical building project for the nation's nuclear defense and cybersecurity.
Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of StratCom, told reporters Friday that military personnel will have an important task of monitoring the construction site “from beginning to end” for security. “We don't want to have some unfortunate devices placed into it,” Kehler said.
Incidentally, an hour after the groundbreaking, a military dog alerted authorities to a suspicious package inside a commercial vehicle, prompting a brief building evacuation near the base's entrance.
During the ceremony, Kehler told an audience of 200 state and local dignitaries that he would ensure construction remains on a tight schedule and within budget. The building is estimated to cost $524.4 million, excluding hundreds of millions of dollars of technology inside it.
Construction of the approximately 1 million-square-foot facility isn't slated for completion for another four years.
“It is the largest (current) construction project in the Air Force, and it will be for many years,” Kehler said. “Our job is to validate this wise investment.”
Kehler said StratCom has had a critical role in protecting the country from the threat of nuclear attack, but it has been 20 years since the Cold War ended.
The current headquarters opened in the late 1950s with a projected 25-year lifetime. In those days, telephones and typewriters were in their heyday, and computers occupied an entire room.
“We know things are different today,” Kehler said.
Today's military faces “a rapidly evolving threat” from violent extremists who can engage in cyberattacks.
The new command and control facility at Offutt is expected to greatly enhance StratCom's ability to defend the nation and its allies. Information technology upgrades were the driving force behind the new headquarters.
U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said the new headquarters will position StratCom “today, tomorrow and into the future” to be the country's leader in cyberdefense.
At times, though, it was a battle to convince Congress that Bellevue was the right site for the headquarters, Nelson told the crowd.
“We persevered,” Nelson said. “We did push hard for this because StratCom is a necessity.”
Gov. Dave Heineman said the headquarters will provide StratCom with greater mission capability for decades.
“StratCom's mission has expanded ... farther into the space and cybermissions, requiring this state-of-the-art facility to synchronize operations that defend the United States from our adversaries and to preserve peace and freedom throughout the world,” Heineman said.
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Terry said the new StratCom headquarters will play a key role in defending the freedom for all U.S. citizens. The new facility will usher in a new era for StratCom, Terry said.
“Technology is more important today than it ever has been in defending America,” Terry said. “As a local boy, I am extremely proud that StratCom will be here for the next generation.”
Both Terry and U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., praised Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., for championing efforts in Washington, D.C., to secure funding for the project. Terry said that even as late as 2011, there were behind-the-scenes efforts by some congressional delegations from other states to “steal” the project from Offutt, or second-guess the decision to put the new headquarters here.
“Ben, you did a great job in leading this effort,” Terry told Nelson. “We are just so proud. Thank you all for making this happen.”
KiewitPhelps, a partnership including Omaha's Kiewit Corp., was awarded the contract for the new StratCom headquarters. Current StratCom operations employ 1,700 military personnel and civilians. The total is expected to grow when the new headquarters is operational.
Nelson told the crowd, “This is a great day. Never before has the role and mission StratCom been more important than today.”
Nelson recited the history of StratCom and spoke about the military base's tremendous impact on the local economy.
Nelson said it was an incredible feat to secure funding for the massive construction project.
“It was a wise decision to make,” he said. “We did push hard for this.”
Nelson joked that he had received one complaint about the project from the U.S. Golf Association. They were disappointed to learn that the nine-hole golf course on the base was being removed.
“You're supposed to laugh at that,” Nelson told the crowd to a roar of laughter.