Service secretary makes unusual visit to Hill Air Force Base

John P, Roth, the acting secretary of the U.S. Air Force (third from left), and Rep. Blake Moore (second from right) met with pilots from the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings on Mar. 24 at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force).

HILL AIR FORCE BASE – In a surprising move, the acting secretary of the U.S. Air Force visited Utah’s Hill Air Force Base on Wednesday, accompanied by Rep. Blake Moore, R-District 1.

John P. Roth is a career Pentagon bureaucrat who was picked to temporarily head the Department of the Air Force on Jan. 20, pending the selection of a permanent replacement by President Joe Biden and the newly confirmed Secretary of Defense, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Roth’s recent round of visits to stateside installations has raised some Pentagon eyebrows, because it is unusual for an individual in a placeholder role like Roth’s to do much more than “mind the store” in Washington, D.C.

Moore tagged along on Roth’s unusual visit to HAFB as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the host representative of Utah’s 1st Congressional District.

“Acting Secretary Roth is a ‘career budgeteer’,” Moore explained during an interview Thursday. “That’s actually how he describes himself.

“The biggest thing on the horizon right now in Washington is President Biden’s budget proposal, particularly for defense. Given that (the Air Force budget) is a strong focus for Roth, that might be the impetus for him to tour all these bases. He’s been to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. Now he’s here at Hill and he’s scheduled to visit Nellis AFB in Nevada soon.”

Roth entered the federal Senior Executive Service in 1990 and has since held several key leadership positions within the office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller).

Roth served as assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management from 2018 until January, when former service secretary Barbara Barrett resigned.

In his current role, Roth heads both the U.S. Air Force and the newly created U.S. Space Force, which comprise nearly 700,000 active duty and reserve personnel with an annual budget in excess of $200 billion.

“The two activities that interested Secretary Roth most at Hill were the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) and the F-35 programs,” Moore explained. “But it was also nice to be able to take him through the full diversity of what the base has to offer.”

Hill AFB is located in the southern portion of Moore’s 1st Congressional District, south of Ogden in Davis County.

Hill AFB is Utah’s sixth-largest employer. More than 10,000 service members and their dependents are assigned to the base, with many of them residing in the nearby communities of Layton, Clearfield, Riverdale, Roy and Sunset.

One of the base’s tenant organizations is the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, which employs more than 16,000 civilian workers. In 2019, Hill Air Force Base pumped an estimated $3.7 billion into Utah’s economy, including annual payroll of nearly $1.5 billion and more than $800 million in local expenditures.

Moore says that one of the base’s most recent and important mission assignments is the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

The GBSD is a replacement nuclear weapons system for the Minuteman III missiles that are now based in silos throughout the western United States. The new missiles are being built by Northrop Grumman, an aerospace giant that recently acquired Utah’s own Orbital ATK Corp. The GBSD project is expected to take more than a decade at a cost of up to $85 billion.

Hill AFB is also home to Air Force reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing and active duty personnel of the 388th Fighter Wing. Those organizations are the first combat-ready units equipped with the new F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter.

In addition to hosting the new F-35 fighters, the missions now assigned to Hill AFB include providing maintenance support for F-16 and F-22 aircraft, repairing landing gear for both Air Force and Navy planes, munitions storage, training over the nearby Utah Testing Range in the West Desert and maintenance of the U.S. arsenal of 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Although Pentagon observers say that placeholders like Roth typically lead service departments for only short periods of time, it seems unlikely that a permanent secretary of the Air Force will be named until all of Biden’s cabinet members have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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