RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — A former commander of a U.S. Air Force fighter wing in Europe stepped into a much bigger job Friday when he assumed command of 3rd Air Force, the war-fighting headquarters of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
Now a lieutenant general, Craig A. Franklin succeeds Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc, at a time of significant change for the Air Force in Europe, symbolized in part by the lone A-10 Thunderbolt II chosen to represent 3rd Air Force’s fleet of aircraft parked inside the hangar for the change-of-command ceremony.
In his remarks as the ceremony’s presiding officer, Gen. Mark A. Welsh, USAFE commander, noted that the 81st Fighter Squadron — the Air Force’s only A-10 squadron in Europe — will be deactivated next year.
The move, announced by the Air Force earlier this year, comes as the Pentagon looks to trim costs while shifting its strategic focus to the Pacific region.
This may be the last USAFE event at which airmen see an A-10, said Welsh, who flew the plane as a young fighter pilot in the early 1980s during an assignment in the United Kingdom.
“It’s going to be hard to see them go,” he said.
Welsh said it won’t be easy to see Gorenc depart either, praising him for his “brilliant leadership” under which 3rd Air Force flourished.
“I know you’re anxious to get to the Pentagon,” Welsh said to Gorenc, drawing laughs from the audience.
After more than 30 months overseeing 33,000 airmen and civilians and 10 wings throughout Europe, Gorenc is moving on to become the assistant vice chief of staff and director, Air Staff, at Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon.
When it was his turn to speak, Gorenc, his voice cracking with emotion, credited his parents with instilling in him a work ethic that helped him rise through the Air Force from humble roots. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Gorenc and his family came to the States from Yugoslavia when he was four years old, with nothing except a few suitcases and $100, he said.
“I’m living the dream,” he said.
Franklin, who commanded the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, from June 2007 to July 2009, comes to 3rd Air Force from the Pentagon where he was vice director of the Joint Staff.
Welsh ticked off some of Franklin’s accomplishments, noting that he’s accumulated 4,000 flying hours, including about 3,800 in the F-16 and 450 in combat.
Thirteen people, Welsh said, said the same thing on Franklin’s performance reports: “He is the best officer I have ever seen.”