On a green field under gray skies, several hundred cadets, friends, family and fellow airmen bid farewell to one Air Force Academy commandant and welcomed a new one as Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams replaced Maj. Gen. Gregory Lengyel to became the 27th Commandant of Cadets Tuesday.
"The mission of the commandant and his staff is to train and motivate 4,000 members of the cadet wing, "said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, academy superintendent. She explained it is a duty that lies "at the heart of our academy's essence."
During Lengyel's two years at the academy - the typical stint for a commandant - attrition rates have dropped to a 45-year low.
"The dauntless efforts of General Lengyel and his staff have elevated the performance of cadet wing," said Johnson, who extolled his efforts to empower cadets by granting them more authority within their own ranks.
Lengyel credited much of his success to his students.
"When we identified problems, we challenged the cadet leadership to solve them," he said. "The cadets' response to this construct exceeded our expectations by tenfold."
Lengyel will take over Special Operations Command Europe in Germany. He's no stranger to special operations, having flown helicopters for that elite arm of the military in Haiti, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. He also has commanded multiple special operation air units.
Despite his departure from a position he called the "Air Force equivalent of winning the lottery," Lengyel feels secure about future of his students.
"It has been an incredible honor to serve as the 26th Commandant of Cadets," Lengyel said. "This has been one of the most rewarding jobs of my career, and I'll be honest with you, I'm sad to leave here. I know that the cadet wing is going to be in great hands with our new commandant."
For Williams, Tuesday's ceremony was a homecoming. He was the academy's top graduate in engineering mechanics in 1989. Most recently, he served as the commander of the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The command pilot has also logged more than 2,800 flying hours, which includes more than 260 combat hours in Iraq during operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom.
The ceremony culminated when Lengyel stood and rendered his final salute to the assembled cadets. He then saluted Johnson, who relieved him of his position. She passed Williams the academy's flag, symbolizing his transition into his new roll.
"We're committed each day to earning the right to lead this great team of airmen," Williams said. "You deserve nothing less.
"All current orders and policies remain in effect; let's get on with serving our country," he concluded.
Williams then gave his first official salute to the cadets, completing the circle of command.