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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Brig. Gen. Frank Klotz took over command of the 20th Air Force and the nation's land-based nuclear missiles on Friday.

Klotz, who is due to be promoted to major general, replaces Maj. Gen. Timothy McMahon, who is retiring.

Klotz becomes the seventh commander of the 20th Air Force since it was reactivated in 1991 and is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and operation of the U.S. arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The 20th includes three space wings, more than 9,600 personnel and 535 ICBMs affiliated with Air Force bases in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.

Units of the 20th Air Force are the 90th Space Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base at Cheyenne; 91st Space Wing near Minot, N.D.; and the 341st Space Wing at Malmstrom AFB at Great Falls, Mont. The 20th's headquarters are based at Warren.

Klotz most recently was assigned to the National Security Council at the White House where he advised the president and national security advisers on U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

The 20th Air Force changed command on a warm, sunny day at the tightly guarded Cheyenne base, where entrances were guarded by machine-gun mounted vehicles and large concrete barriers. About 500 base personnel, state and local dignitaries and military officers attended the ceremony.

Air Force Space Command Gen. Lance W. Lord, whom Klotz reports directly to in peacetime, performed the change of command.

"The 20th Air Force influences events throughout the world every day without firing a shot because the world knows the consequences should the 20th Air Force ever be called into action," Lord said.

Klotz said the 20th has the busy task of implementing President Bush's decision to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear weapons.

"Yet even as we implement the president's decision to reduce, our strategic forces will continue to play an indispensable role in protecting our country, its people and its interests at home and abroad," he said. "They do this by deterring aggression, by dissuading other states that acquire weapons of destruction, by assuring our allies and friends of our unmatched strength and resolve and if necessary by defending against attack.

"In a very real sense our strategic forces, the forces of the 20th Air Force and its units, serve as the basic foundation on which all other aspects of our national military power rest."

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Klotz said the 20th needs support from the communities surrounding air bases and missile silos in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska and Colorado.

"There's absolutely no way we could perform our mission and provide for the welfare of our people without your great help," he said.

McMahon, who commanded the 20th since July 2000, gave his "folks in the field" one last emotional message.

"Deter aggressively and be safe," he said, his voice cracking. "Take good care of yourselves and each other and God bless you all."

Klotz, a Rhodes scholar, entered the Air Force in 1973 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He has commanded a Minuteman missile squadron, a missile launch task force, an operations group and a missile wing.

His staff assignments include tours in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, at the State Department as a White House Fellow, on the faculty of the Air Force Academy, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, and as the director of logistics at Air Force Space Command.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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