Weekly Column

Nebraska is proud to be home to one of our nation’s most strategically important military bases. Offutt Air Force Base lies in Sarpy County and is home to STRATCOM, or United States Strategic Command, which oversees our nation’s nuclear deterrent.

Offutt is also home to the 55th Wing, the unit of the Air Force that is responsible for global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. With over 7,000 military and civilian employees, the 55th Wing conducts flying missions across the world and provides support to over 50 associate units. Though their operations take place across a wide range of locations, I am immensely proud that they are headquartered right here in Nebraska.

As you might expect, the 55th Wing uses the runway at Offutt just about every day. And on top of the importance of their missions, they are also the largest wing in Air Combat Command, while the related 55th Operations Group has the distinction of operating the largest and most diverse range of aircraft variants in the Air Force.  

Despite the importance of these missions, Offutt’s runway was originally constructed in 1941, and the runway’s age is making it hard for the 55th Wing to do its job. Athough parts of it have been repaired and upgraded, many sections are nearly 80 years old. This means that extra maintenance is required just to keep it safe for the airmen who use it. Rob Hufford, the lead engineer in the 55th Wing’s Project Management Office, has said that his group is “pouring man-hours and resources into our current runway just to keep it functioning.”

The need to replace this runway has been clear for a long time, and since I was first sworn in as your U.S. Senator, I have consistently advocated for this with the senior leadership of the Department of Defense and have been deeply involved in accelerating the process.

In April 2016, I had breakfast with then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James at the Pentagon, which gave me the opportunity to stress the importance of a new runway for Offutt with the Air Force’s highest-ranking official. That same month, I also met with the then-USAF Chief of Staff, General Mark A. Welsh III, and reiterated how crucial it was that the Air Force prioritize replacing this runway. Since then, I have advocated for this project with each Secretary of the Air Force that has held the office, as well as numerous other senior DOD officials.  

To help ensure the completion of the runway project, I also helped include provisions in 2018 in that year’s National Defense Authorization Act that encouraged the Air Force to swiftly complete this project and authorized the secretaries of all military departments to develop new technologies to extend the service lives of runways.

In January 2019, the Air Force announced that they would conduct a full runway replacement. This was great news for Offutt, as the scope for the project will help ensure a long service life for the new runway, underlining Offutt’s continued importance. 

I am proud to say that earlier this month, the Air Force awarded a contract for the runway replacement, further confirming their commitment to the airmen who serve at Offutt and to the surrounding Nebraska communities. This $144 million investment will not only help to keep them safe during their missions, but also enable them to do their jobs more effectively.

The project will take about two years to complete. During the construction phase at Offutt, the 55th Wing will remain in Nebraska and operate out of the Lincoln Airport.

Offutt Air Force Base and the 55th Wing are critical to our national security and our state, and I could not be more pleased at this announcement. A new, modern runway will ease the burden on this important unit of our Air Force and serve them well for decades to come.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.