O’Keefe takes the helm at SAASS

  • Published
  • By Billy Blankenship
  • Air University Public Affairs

Colonel Robert O’Keefe is now the commandant and dean of the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Air University after a change of command ceremony at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Jan. 5, 2024.

O’Keefe replaces Col. Jason Trew, who retired at the conclusion of his command on campus.

The SAASS program is a highly competitive one-year graduate experience focusing on the development of airpower strategists.

“Institutionally, we often overlook the differences between education and training,” O’Keefe said. “Whereas training is about skill mastery through repetition, education is about developing habits of inquiry that form and grow knowledge. Warfare in the past could largely be conducted merely through mastering maneuver and weaponry. Contemporary warfare incorporates a complex array of human dimensions that defy rote practice and demand understanding and logic. To achieve that, education affords us the time to think and reflect, away from day-to-day operations, equips our current and future leaders the tools they need to discern and respond to ever-more complex security environments.”

The 2015 SAASS graduate’s previous assignment was as an assistant professor in the international security studies department at Air War College. O'Keefe has served as a certified foreign area officer in Latin America and Europe, along with being the inaugural commander of the sole air mobility liaison squadron to U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps operational staffs worldwide. He commissioned through the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program in 2000 and is a senior navigator.

“We’re grateful to move Colonel O’Keefe around the academic circle from Air War College to lead SAASS,” said Lt. Gen. Andrea Tullos, Air University’s commander and president, during the ceremony. “Some of the SAASS team know him from his time as a student, but others will quickly come to appreciate the skills he brings to our Air University team. He’s well-prepared to take SAASS to the next level.”

In his role as commandant, O’Keefe leads 17 terminally credentialed faculty members and 45 Air Force, Space Force, Department of Defense and international students annually. All graduates write a master's-level thesis, making an original contribution to the field of strategy and security studies. Their book-based curriculum covers strategy, international relations, airpower, space power, cyber power, irregular warfare and technology and innovation.

“(General CQ Brown, Jr.) chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out three expectations to prevail in war: master warfighting, focus on jointness, and integrate with allies and partners,” O’Keefe said. “SAASS exhibits each of these tenets well. The value of deterrence is in the human domain, where SAASS graduates understand and create wicked problems in the mind of the adversary. Additionally, the personal and professional connections our students make across services and nations while in these halls endure and supersede any wiring diagrams or organizational charts. The SAASS network is strong and immensely capable not only to support national defense efforts, but to spearhead them. I’m honored and privileged to serve as SAASS’s 14th commandant and dean.”