MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
The man stopped in the narrow hallway, his eyes turning to rows of glossy portraits hanging symmetrically on the wall.
“He was my first wing commander,” the man said.
It was 1986 when a young, U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Anthony Cotton first laid eyes on the main gate at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; with the words, “only the best come north,” proudly displayed for all to see.
“It all started right here,” Maj. Gen. Anthony Cotton, 20th Air Force commander, said, during a visit to Minot, Sept. 29. “Coming to Minot as a brand new second lieutenant in late October of 1986, I wanted to do the best I could as a missile crewmember.”
Cotton said the drive to do his best was something his father, a former Air Force chief master sergeant, emphasized heavily throughout his life.
“My dad instilled the Core Values in me,” he said. “But, even more important, he told me to do the best you can at the job you are in.”
Setting goals kept the motivation to constantly improve strong, Cotton said. Now, nearly 31 years later, the general returned to where his career began to see the same passion for excellence on the faces of Airmen at Minot.
“I use the words of my dad to mentor the Airmen I see here,” Cotton said. “Stand by the Core Values, do your best and everything plays out pretty well.”
As Airmen push forward to adapt to an ever-changing world, Cotton challenged them to incorporate innovation into their daily lives and work toward creating a modernized, more lethal Air Force.
“In the ICBM world, the modernization has been ongoing,” he said. “Even though I was a Minuteman III guy, I was part of the generation that saw the deployment of the first Peacekeeper. That was game changing for us.”
Speaking on the deployment of the LGM-118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile in 1986, Cotton said many of the advances and innovations gleaned from the now-deactivated program have been applied to the LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM program and beyond.
“I think some of the technologies and processes we saw, during the Peacekeeper program, we will see again,” Cotton said. “But, I think the next game changer is one I haven’t seen yet – and that is GBSD.”
GBSD, or Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, is an ICBM weapon system replacement for the Minuteman III. With a focus on developing and delivering an integrated weapons system, Cotton said GBSD will employ a modular architecture – making the overall platform more responsive to the needs of combatant commanders, and the challenges of technological change and new threat environments.
“It is a modernization of the entire weapon system – not just the missile itself,” said Cotton. “The command and control, the launch control system itself, the missile alert facilities, all of those will look different – and rightly so.”
Cotton said while certain components and subsystems of the Minuteman III system have been upgraded over the years, the infrastructure and much of the original equipment has remained unchanged since 1970.
“I can go to India-01 right now and it will look exactly as it did when I pulled alerts there from 1986 to 1991, granted as a CDB crewmember without the REACT console” Cotton said. “Not that it’s a bad thing, but the brick and mortar of the system is what it is. I think the greatest change we are going to see in the nuclear enterprise will be GBSD.”
As the Air Force transitions to GBSD, Cotton said it is important for Airmen at all levels to fully understand how their day-to-day jobs contribute to overall mission success.
“It is a team sport,” he said. “We have remarkable Airmen doing remarkable things here. Deterrence is about credibility, and credibility is about knowing what you are doing and getting the job done.”
That credibility extends to the Airmen of the 91st Missile Wing, who work together to ensure Minot remains a strong, deterrent force, Cotton said.
“I can sleep well at night knowing that the team at Minot is both a credible and an incredible deterrent force,” the general said. “The Airmen here are striving and thriving to be on the forefront of innovation.”
With Airmen of the 91st Missile Wing leading the charge of innovation and dynamic leadership, Cotton said the future of the Air Force rests with the empowerment of squadron commanders.
“The squadron commanders can do something I can’t,” Cotton said. “They can reach out and impact the lives of not just Airmen, but anyone who is a part of their lives. That’s important. The success of the Air Force is right there at that squadron level.”
As this reinvigoration continues, Cotton said he expects to see more positive changes over the years throughout the Air Force.
“I see a more integrated force,” he began. “One that isn’t stove piped. One that isn’t just operations, maintenance or security, but rather one that is interwoven and integrated. While GBSD will help drive that, I think the path we are following with our leadership teams is one that leads to the cohesion necessary to meet the challenges we will face in the future.”