29 July 2008

First Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Dies in San Antonio

Retired Air Force Gen. Robert T. Herres, the first vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died July 24 after a long illness. He was 75.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said all members of the armed forces mourn the passing of a man he called a pioneer.

"As we mourn his passing, so too should we reflect on his contributions to our national security -- of the thousands of lives he guided, the careers he mentored, the difference he made simply by virtue of his leadership," Mullen said. "We are a stronger, more capable military today in large part because of his efforts to make us so. He will be missed."

Herres was born in Denver on Dec. 1, 1932. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, but took his commission in the Air Force in 1954. He flew F-86 fighters and served at various posts in the United States and Europe.

In 1966, the Air Force selected Herres as an astronaut-pilot for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, but officials cancelled the program in 1969, and Herres never got a chance to fly in space.

As a colonel, Herres commanded the provisional 310th Strategic Wing, based in Utapao, Thailand. The wing supported U.S. operations in Southeast Asia. He became a brigadier general in 1974. He commanded Air Force Communications Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., from 1979 to 1981 and 8th Air Force based at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., from 1981 to 1982.

In 1984, Herres pinned on his fourth star and took over North American Aerospace Defense Command. The Defense Department was working to put all space assets under one command, and on Sept. 23, 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation creating the U.S. Space Command and appointed Herres as its first commander.

Military actions in the early 1980s in Iran, Grenada, Lebanon and other areas highlighted the need for the services to act jointly. The result was the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which reorganized the Joint Chiefs of Staff and created the position of vice chairman. Reagan selected Herres to be the first vice chairman, and he took office serving first under Navy Adm. William J. Crowe and then under Army Gen. Colin Powell during their terms as chairman.

The job was new, and Crowe, Herres and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger set out to make it meaningful. In addition to acting as the chairman when the chairman was not available, they decided the vice chairman would chair the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and the Nuclear Command and Control System. Herres also served as the vice chairman of the Defense Acquisition Board. These positions allowed him to help set military requirements for major acquisitions. During his term, he concentrated on close-air support, space-based surveillance and anti-satellite systems.

Herres retired in February 1990. He moved to San Antonio and joined USAA, an insurance and financial services association.

"As the very first vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ... it was he who institutionalized the role of the military in setting requirements for major weapons systems, putting that process back in the hands of the Joint Staff," Mullen said. "He served his nation nobly for more than 35 years as a skilled pilot, engineer, programmer and analyst. He was an early pioneer of aerospace research and a master of command, control and communications management, leading at virtually every level in the U.S. Air Force."

Herres is survived by his wife of 51 years, Shirley, and three children: Julie Latenser, Michael Herres and Jennifer Babeon. He will be buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

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