BOSTON — In the wake of his firing of the U.S. Air Force’s top two officials, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told personnel at Air Force Space Command June 10 to rededicate themselves to upholding operational standards.

Gates said concerns about the Air Force’s handling of nuclear weapons was the sole reason he demanded the resignation of Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne and the retirement of Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, the Air Force Chief of Staff, June 5.

Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base,
, is responsible for maintaining the readiness of the U.S. ICBM arsenal.

“Embrace accountability in all you do, for everything in your area of responsibility,” Gates said. “When you see failures outside your lane, throw a flag, bring it to attention of people who can do something about it.”

Gates noted that operation and protection of the nuclear arsenal was a top priority for the Air Force during the Cold War, and considered a prestigious career path within the Air Force. However, the mission has not received sufficient attention over the past decade, and the Air Force has struggled to retain expertise in that area.

Gates’ speech came one day after he announced in a Pentagon press release that he had recommended to U.S. President George W. Bush that Wynne and Moseley be replaced by Michael Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz, respectively.

Donley, who currently serves as the Pentagon’s director of administration and management – a job Gates described during his Peterson speech as “mayor of the Pentagon ” – previously served as acting Air Force secretary for several months in 1993. Schwartz currently is commander of U.S. Transportation Command.

Gates recommended that Schwartz’s Transportation Command post be filled by Gen. Duncan McNabb, the Air Force vice chief of staff. He also recommended that Lt. Gen. William Fraser, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replace McNabb as Air Force vice chief.

Gates said during his speech at Space Command that the decision to axe Wynne and Moseley was based solely on nuclear weapons management issues, and described them as valued advisers. Gates acknowledged that he also had disagreements with the two over acquisition and personnel issues, but described those conflicts as part of the normal tension that exists between service leaders and a defense secretary.

Gates said all of the military’s service leaders need to be better at accepting constructive criticism from outside their branch of service.

Following his prepared remarks at Peterson, which were broadcast online through the Pentagon Channel Web site, Gates asked media to leave so he could hold a closed-door question and answer session with Space Command personnel.

A day earlier, Space Command personnel received a similar message from their commander, Gen. Robert Kehler.

“We are going to dedicate ourselves to getting after the issues that have been raised,” Kehler said during a speech at Peterson, excerpts of which were included in an article posted on Space Command’s Web site. “We are going to insist on perfection as the standard and we are going to be absolutely certain that we are holding people to the appropriate level of accountability, responsibility, authority and everything that goes with our attention on this business.”

, who entered the Air Force in 1975 as a missile combat crew trainee and has served primarily in ICBM and space positions during his career, said he does not blame any individuals with knowingly making poor decisions that led to the nuclear handling problems, but that “1,000 little decisions have led to fundamental issues in our ICBM forces.”

told his troops that he wants standards strictly adhered to, but also wants them reviewed to ensure they continue to make sense. Inspection processes also will be reviewed and modified if necessary, he said.