With a flurry of pageantry and military tradition, Brig. Gen. Sandra Finan assumed command Thursday of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base.
Before about 400 airmen and civilians gathered in a Kirtland hangar, Finan replaced Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, who has headed the center since January 2011, during a change-of-command ceremony. Harencak has been appointed as the Pentagon’s assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration.
Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, the four-star commander of Air Force Materiel Command who presided over the ceremony, had high praise for Harencak, Finan and the weapons center.
“The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center provides a vital mission critical to the security of our nation,” Wolfenbarger said. “This center is responsible for the entire scope of nuclear weapons support, providing safe, secure and reliable nuclear weapons supporting our mission command structure and our warfighters.”
The center, set up by the Air Force in March 2006 to address a handful of high-profile lapses in nuclear weapons security, is the steward and logistics manager for the Air Force’s nuclear arsenal.
The independent Federation of American Scientists estimates Kirtland’s Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex, one of two major storage areas for Air Force nuclear weapons, holds more than 2,000 nuclear warheads.
Wolfenbarger said Harencak has provided “unmatched leadership” during his tenure. She said Harencak “conducted the most comprehensive assessment in Air Force history” of its nuclear weapons sustainment and storage systems, and was responsible for its excellent performance in passing its June 2012 Nuclear Surety Inspection.
“Get ready Pentagon, here comes ‘Cak,’ ” Wolfenbarger said, using Harencak’s nickname.
Harencak welcomed Finan and her husband, Chuck Finan, to the center, saying she was the right person for the job.
After receiving the Nuclear Weapons Center’s flag from Wolfenbarger, Finan said she recognizes the center has a “vital role in defending our nation,” and that she looks forward to working with the airmen and civilians who work there.
“Supporting our nation’s most powerful weapons is an awesome responsibility,” Finan said. “The men and women of the Nuclear Weapons Center have been, and continue to be, a crucial part of defining our history.”
Finan, who has been nominated for her second star by President Obama, was most recently principal assistant deputy administrator for a Department of Energy program that maintains the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile – a program with an annual budget of more than $5 billion.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal