Click here to watch Thune’s speech.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed newly confirmed U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Ellsworth Air Force Base, and the current situation in Syria. Earlier today, Thune met with Barrett where they discussed the future of Ellsworth Air Force Base as it prepares to serve as the first home of the B-21 bomber.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, later today, the Senate will vote to confirm Barbara Barrett as secretary of the Air Force.
“I have come to the floor directly from a meeting with her this morning.
“Ambassador Barrett has had an impressive career, both inside and outside of government.
“Among other things, she has served as U.S. ambassador to Finland, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and as a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board.
“Most importantly, she has a deep understanding of the U.S. Air Force, thanks to her work as a civilian adviser to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs.
“As a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, she fought to expand opportunities for women in the military.
“She became the first civilian woman to land an F-18 on an aircraft carrier, part of a mission to demonstrate women’s fitness to fly in combat.
“Thanks in part to her work, in 1993 the military changed its regulations to allow women to fly combat aircraft.
“Mr. President, I’m always particularly interested in making sure we have an outstanding Air Force secretary because my state of South Dakota is lucky enough to play host to Ellsworth Air Force Base, home of the 28th Bomb Wing and future home of the B-21 bomber.
“Over the state work period in October, I was able to visit Ellsworth to sit down with the new commander of the 28th Bomb Wing, Colonel David Doss, as well as Command Chief Master Sergeant Rochelle Hemingway.
“We had a great discussion, and we had the chance to talk about the needs of the base going forward, including what will be needed as Ellsworth prepares to serve as the first home of the B-21.
“Ensuring that the base has the necessary resources and infrastructure to fully support the B-21 mission will be a priority of mine not just as we await the mission, but for decades to come.
“Since I came to Congress, I’ve worked with the base and the greater Rapid City community to build up Ellsworth.
“We’ve gone from fighting to keep the base open, to adding an MQ-9 Reaper mission and supporting the B-1 as a workhorse of the bomber fleet, to hosting the largest training airspace in the continental United States and being chosen to host both the B-21 training mission and first operational squadron.
“I’m incredibly proud of all that Ellsworth airmen have accomplished, and I’m looking forward to seeing everything the team at the base will do in the future.
“Mr. President, as I reflect on the critical role our military plays in the world, I want to take a minute to talk about what’s happening in Syria right now, and the United States’ response.
“This is a complex situation.
“Given its proximity to several fronts of conflict and unrest, Turkey is facing immense pressure to address security concerns and is straining to support a huge number of refugees.
“Turkey also has an understandable interest in rooting out terrorists within its country and stemming any factions that support them.
“But the Kurdish militias the United States has backed in Syria are not the same as the group Turkey has struggled to contain in its own country.
“And Turkey’s decision to attack Kurdish forces in Syria will do nothing but exacerbate the humanitarian crisis on its border.
“It will also strengthen the Assad regime and foster greater influence in the region by Russia and Iran.
“Most alarmingly, Turkey’s incursion will force the Kurds to pull resources that would otherwise be committed to keeping ISIS fighters imprisoned.
“It’s deeply concerning that the withdrawal of U.S. forces has set this into motion.
“Mr. President, as you know, a major reason for ISIS’ rise was President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq on a timetable he announced to our enemies and before the security situation was stable.
“The departure of U.S. forces created a vacuum in the region that ISIS quickly stepped in to fill.
“It’s important that we don’t allow history to repeat itself.
“U.S. and Kurdish forces have been working together against ISIS for years now and have succeeded in drastically shrinking ISIS’ territory and weakening this terrorist organization.
“Thanks to their work, in many respects ISIS can be said to be on the run.
“But this achievement could quickly be undone by a U.S. withdrawal from the country.
“I hope that we’ll be able to have some fruitful discussions here in Washington this week about the need to maintain our strategic gains against ISIS and avoid creating a vacuum for our enemies to fill.
“And I hope our NATO ally Turkey is listening closely.”