Senator Kent Conrad today welcomed General Mark Welsh, the nominee to become the next Chief of Staff of the Air Force, to his Capitol Hill office to offer his support for the Air Force and make the case for additional missions at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Currently the commander of U.S. Armed Forces Europe, General Welsh was nominated to serve as the next Chief of Staff in May.
"General Welsh's sterling reputation speaks for itself, but meeting with him confirms my confidence that he is an excellent candidate to succeed General Schwartz as Chief. Over the years some incredible men have served in this post, and I am confident that General Welsh is fit to follow in their footsteps."
In addition to welcoming General Welsh, Senator Conrad used the meeting to share information he has received on tanker basing process, and expressed hope that General Welsh will recognize the many advantages Grand Forks brings to the Air Force when it comes time to approve the candidate list. The Senator stressed the importance of additional qualitative factors not reflected in the criteria, including the base's geographical advantages for deployments to overseas and operational missions and the value of basing a new KC-46 wing at a base with substantial open infrastructure rather than trying to move into an existing KC-135 base.
"I've always done what I can to support the Air Force, and have appreciated the commitment the Air Force has shown to us in North Dakota. Grand Forks Air Force Base is a great example of the fruits of this relationship," Senator Conrad said. "Over the years, I have supported every effort to recapitalize the tanker fleet -- our Air Force's top acquisition priority. Getting new tankers was and still is essential to our country's ability to project power, and it's also essential to ensuring that Grand Forks realizes its full potential."
Senator Conrad and General Welsh also discussed the bright future of Minot Air Force Base and the critical role it will continue to play in the nation's nuclear deterrent, as the only base with two legs of the triad -- the land-based ICBM and the B-52 bomber. In light of the ongoing Department of Defense effort to develop plans for implementing the New START arms control treaty with Russia, Senator Conrad talked with General Welsh about the work he has done as co-chairman of the Senate ICBM Coalition to fight for retaining as many missiles as allowable under the treaty, and keeping all 450 missile silos in a warm status.
"Our ICBM force is the nation's most cost-effective strategic asset, and when they're loaded with just one warhead per missile, they become the most stabilizing leg of the nuclear triad," Senator Conrad said. "I'm glad I had the chance to have a good conversation with General Welsh about his belief that the nuclear mission is and must remain the Air Force's top priority. That's good news for Minot."
General Welsh is a career fighter pilot with experience in the A-10 and F-16. His previous service includes a tour as the lead military officer at the Central Intelligence Agency, working closely with Director Leon Panetta, and a tour in the Air Force acquisition office. He is a graduate of the Air Force Academy.