Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks Thursday at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb. He signaled that U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt will be around for a long time, even as bases are closing around the country (Kent Sievers / AP)
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, NEB. — Even as the U.S. Department of Defense has sought to shutter military bases and facilities around the country, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signaled Thursday that U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha is safe.
Hagel said at a ceremony to honor StratCom personnel that the command is central to dealing with threats facing the country.
"StratCom will remain a foundational piece of our national security for a long time," Hagel said.
Earlier Thursday, Hagel was briefed on the capabilities of the command, which oversees the nation's nuclear arsenal and has many strategic missions.
The Defense Department has made several recommendations to save money, but has been repeatedly rebuffed by Congress. Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced a bill that rejects the Pentagon's call to scrap a version of the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, increase health care fees for retirees and their dependents and close military bases around the county.
Hagel also acknowledged automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect March 1 and forced the military to furlough workers and scale back training.
"I'm not unaware of some of the hardships that some of you are dealing with in furloughs. I have an appreciation for what this means for your families," he said to about 200 military service members and civilians with U.S. Strategic Command who attended the event. "We're all going into this together, and we'll all come out together."
Following his remarks, the former two-term U.S. senator from Nebraska handed out commemorative coins to the StratCom service members and civilian workers.
A day earlier, Hagel spoke to about 300 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he earned a bachelor's degree of science in history some 40 years ago.
The trip to Nebraska is Hagel's first since being confirmed as defense secretary in February. Hagel is one of only a few defense secretaries who served in the military's enlisted ranks. He was an Army sergeant in 1967-68 and was wounded in Vietnam.