SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — The Defense Department has announced that Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, the 18th Air Force commander, has been nominated to serve as the next commander of the Air Mobility Command, located at Scott.
McDew, 53, is set to replace Gen. Paul Selva, the current AMC commander. Selva has been nominated to command the U.S. Transportation Command, also located at Scott.
In the announcement made late Tuesday, the Pentagon also stated that McDew has been nominated for the rank of full general, which would entitle him to wear four stars.
The fourth star would make McDew the U.S. military's highest ranking officer of color.
McDew was not available for comment Wednesday. But in a statement issued to 18th Air Force airmen Wednesday morning, McDew thanked them "for the outstanding work you do every day in support of our critical global mission, our military and our nation."
McDew noted in his statement that these are "challenging times for our military and nation, and I expect they will only become more so in the coming days and months. However, my pledge is to be right beside you as we face them -- and overcome them -- together."
McDew's leadership skills were spotted early on, during his days at Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington where he graduated in 1982 with a degree in civil engineering.
McDew made history in 1981 when he was chosen as the first black regimental commander at the previously all-white school which, during the Civil War, provided the Confederate Army with some of its best officers.
Jim Hickey, who graduated with McDew from VMI in 1982, served as McDew's operations officer for the VMI regiment.
Hickey said he was not at all surprised to hear McDew had been nominated for a fourth star and leadership of a major Air Force command.
"He was a first-class leader. Really the example of everything we wanted out of a VMI man at the time," said Hickey, a retired Army colonel. "Honorable. Hard-working. Humble. He had great presence, patience, a sense of humor. And he was highly respected as a result."
Hickey has some perspective on leadership. In December 2003, as commander of the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, he led the raid called "Operation Red Dawn" that resulted in the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"Darren was just a top-shelf guy, and everyone knew it," Hickey said. "Quite frankly, he knew how to delegate very, very effectively, which I think is an essential attribute of any leader. He would delegate authority, but never delegate responsibility. I think he intuitively understood that."
McDew, who has a long career as a pilot of cargo and air refueling aircraft, took over command of the 18th Air Force, which oversees most of AMC's major aircraft, in August 2012. A decade before he had served as commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, which oversees Scott.
President Barack Obama nominated McDew for the rank of full general, the standard tour of which is three years. A majority of the U.S. Senate must confirm McDew after he testifies before the Armed Services Committee.
No date has yet been scheduled for McDew's appearance before the Senate panel.
Selva is still awaiting Senate confirmation for his nomination to command U.S. Transportation Command
As 18th Air Force commander, McDew oversees a workforce of 37,000 military and civilian personnel. As commander of AMC, he will oversee a military and civilian workforce of more than 130,000.
Mark Gunzinger, a retired Air Force officer who worked alongside McDew when both worked for the service's chief of staff in the early 1990s, applauded McDew's selection for the top spot at AMC.
"What impressed me about him was his communication skills are fantastic," said Gunzinger, who today works at the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Assessments in Washington, D.C. "He's just a great communicator ... He's just a regular person, and you mix that with a great command of facts and an excellent operational background, then you'll really have a very strong leader."
Gunzinger said McDew, as AMC's next commander, faces some big challenges, especially when it comes to maintaining Air Force readiness.
"AMC in particular is heavily tasked day to day" to meet global commitments, Gunzinger said. "Doing that in the midst of a downturn in the defense budget, a smaller overall force, a force that is increasingly paying the tax of too much infrastructure and personnel costs that are growing out of control -- I think those are a few challenges to keep him busy."