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Air Force Special Ops leader retires after 33 years

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — In an airplane hangar packed full of airmen, civilians, family and friends, Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel officially retired from the Air Force on Thursday after 33 years.

During that time, he rose to the ranks of leader of the Air Force Special Operations Command and garnered the respect and admiration of leaders all the way up the chain of command, including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who was on hand for the retirement and change of command ceremony.

“He’s an AFSOC icon, leader and man I have admired since the day I met him,” Welsh said. “No one knows this business better than Eric Fiel.”

Fiel, a navigator, first came to Hurlburt Field in 1982 as part of the 8th Special Operations Squadron flying MC-130s.

The Air Force special operations command had grown to 277 airplanes and 19,500 people by the time Fiel took over in 2011.

In addition to Fiel’s combat experience — he led a gunship squadron in Bosnia and Kosovo and was deployed repeatedly as a commander in Afghanistan and Iraq — he had a hand in helping to grow Air Force Special Operations into what it is today.

A lot of that was done at what Navy Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, called the “Speed of Fiel.”

“Actions must be quick, results must be quicker,” McRaven said during the ceremony. “He pushes and pushes and pushes until he gets the air commandos to be the best they can be.”

Fiel was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on Thursday for his time as leader of Air Force special ops.

His wife, Donna, also received the Exceptional Service Award for her hard work as an advocate for airmen and their families and for being a role model for Air Force spouses, according to the award announcement.

The couple have not decided where to live after Fiel’s retirement, but he said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family.

To Donna, he said:

“I missed a lot of anniversaries and a lot of holiday, but in a few short minutes I’m going to be all yours.”

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