Four-stars to the nuclear rescue

Gen. Larry Spencer, second from left, prepares to discuss Air Force readiness before a House panel earlier this year.

WASHINGTON--Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ended the press conference on America's nuclear deterrent by saying, "I'll give the last word to Adm. Haney."

He was referring to a graduate of the District of Columbia Public Schools standing next to a similarly improbable four-star admiral.

But the optics were clear. America's most powerful weapons were entrusted to Adms. Cecil Haney and Michelle Howard to reverse a series of missteps which threatened to shake the confidence in the strategic force.

Both Naval Academy graduates, Haney is the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls all nuclear weapons, and Howard is the vice chief of naval operations, the second ranking officer in the U.S. Navy and the highest ranking woman in U.S. military history.

The stakes could not be higher. A resurgent Russian Federation and People's Republic of China, along with South Asian rivals Pakistan and India make atomic politics relevant again, more so than any time since the end of the Soviet Union.

Along with Gen. Larry Spencer, the vice chief of staff of the U.S. 

Air Force, also tasked with improving the Air Force's readiness after a decade of war, it was a further indication of the continuing progress of African-American military officers into the highest ranks of the armed forces.

Hagel announced a ten percent increase in the $16 billion spent on nuclear forces, in response to a review panel study.  

Howard added, " I just visited our Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic last week. Those buildings were built 25 years ago and they're in good shape. But then when you think about it, it's like your 25-year-old house.

Haney added, "I've visited all of our nuclear bases, more than twice in most cases over my tenure here, about a year of being in command in U.S. Strategic Command. And I can say I've met with small groups, large groups, et cetera. And most of our folks to a -- were very committed to the point where they were perturbed at the performance by those who demonstrated flaws in their integrity. And they are very passionate about the business and very hopeful as they look at this commitment that the department has had associated with this mission, which is very important to our country."