MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The new 35th Fighter Wing commander isn’t exactly easing into the job.

Just days after accepting the guidon at an Aug. 26 change-of-command ceremony, Brig. Gen. (select) Sam Angelella already had met with chief master sergeants and group commanders, toured the enlisted dining hall, attended a nonappropriated funds meeting, visited with deploying airmen and played golf with Misawa city’s mayor.

And that was only part of Angelella’s to-do list.

“A lot of it is getting to know people,” he said in a recent interview at wing headquarters.

As the new leader of a base that supports more than 10,000 servicemembers, civilians and dependents; maintains strong ties to the local Misawa community; and works side-by-side with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, there's a lot of new faces for Angelella to meet and greet.

But he did get one head start: As the 1998-2000 13th Fighter Squadron commander, he is familiar with the wing’s mission and many of the local Japanese leaders and knows the lay of the land.

“It’s like coming home,” he said. “It’s just as beautiful as I remember it.”

Angelella said he inherited a wing in top form from Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, along with a base this year named best in the Air Force.

“Like they say, ‘Don’t fix anything that’s not broken,’” he said. “I don’t expect to have to worry about anything like that here.”

His top priority is “to take care of the people so they can take care of the mission” and then to continue to foster relationships with Japan and Misawa, he said.

“If you take care of those two things, the mission will take care of itself, ” he said.

Not to be neglected are the families. “You can’t take care of the people if you’re not taking care of the families,” Angelella said. “We have some great family programs here at Misawa.”

Meeting those goals while maintaining a balance in his own life now are Angelella’s biggest challenges, he believes.

“I need to personally and professionally enjoy my time and get out and see more of Japan and bring my family along,” he said. “You can get embroiled in the mission and, as they say, forget to stop to smell the roses … or the cherry blossoms.”

Angelella has a different message for each core group within the wing:

For group and squadron commanders: “I like to … just coach them. I tell them I expect them to do their job and ask questions if they need help, and I won’t do their jobs for them because I have other things to do. I see my job as the wing commander in growing up new group commanders and growing up new wing commanders and helping them succeed.”For the enlisted leaders: “I told the chiefs … if they would like to be a command chief, then I need to get to know them because I would be the final recommendation,” he said. “I want to get to know the chiefs. That will help you get to know the airmen.”For younger airmen: “I like to tell them … how proud I am of them for volunteering to join our Air Force. They joined after 9/11, most of them, and they need to be recognized for their patriotism. … They also need to know it’s going to be very rewarding for them … when they deploy. … We’ll take care of their families for them while they’re gone.”Air Force Academy grad does things ‘the Ripken way’

Brig. Gen. (select) Sam Angelella is joined at Misawa by his wife, Marci; son, Tony, a junior at Edgren High School; and daughter, Mia, a high-school freshman.

Angelella most recently served in Casteau, Belgium, as executive officer to the commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

A 1981 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he commanded the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and was the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander in Kuwait prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, among other previous command assignments.

When asked about his best assignment, Angelella quotes a major he recently saw promoted to lieutenant colonel: “He said, ‘It’s the one you have right now. It’s really the journey; it’s not the assignment, it’s the journey there.’”

One of Angelella’s role models is Cal Ripken Jr. In Ripken’s autobiography, “The Only Way I Know,” the former baseball star “talks about how there’s only one way to do things and that way is the Ripken way and the Ripken way is to do the best that you can,” Angelella said.

Angelella calls his heroes, meanwhile, “the airmen, because they do what they’re asked. They deploy on a moment’s notice. Sometimes they do tasks that they might feel are repetitive and tiring, but they need to know they are all contributing to the mission.”

He said he’s thankful to numerous commanders for whom he’s worked, from Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander, who was wing commander during part of Angelella’s previous Misawa tour, to now retired Brig. Gen. Dave Moody.

As a young fighter pilot, Angelella said he aimed to become a squadron commander.

“Everything after that was never expected,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful to the Air Force for giving me the opportunity to be back here to be wing commander.”

— Jennifer H. Svan

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now