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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — No introductions were needed between the three Air Force generals seated on stage inside an aircraft hangar at Ramstein.

All three are fighter pilots with long military careers that crisscrossed paths again Friday, when the newest four-star in the bunch, Gen. Frank Gorenc, assumed command of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, U.S. Air Forces Africa and Allied Air Command.

“My brief sabbatical to the Pentagon made me realize that I am back exactly where I belong, with you in Europe and Africa, delivering precise combat power to two major combat commands and the most effective alliance in history,” Gorenc told the hundreds of airmen standing before him. His last assignment in Europe ended about 17 months ago when he was the Third Air Force commander.

Also standing on familiar ground were Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Gen. Philip Breedlove, both former USAFE commanders who have stepped up to lead even larger commands. Welsh is the Air Force chief of staff, and Breedlove heads the U.S. European Command and is supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe.

Breedlove left USAFE in May, passing command to his deputy at the time, Lt. Gen. Noel T. “Tom” Jones.

Welsh gave Gorenc and his leadership ability an unequivocal vote of confidence but not before getting in a few jokes about Gorenc’s large “six-foot-four, 230 pound” frame.

“If you’re going to follow in Phil Breedlove’s footsteps, it helps to have large feet,” Welsh quipped. “Frank Gorenc qualifies.”

“He’s got these giant Wisconsin dairy farmer hands … he’s got a heart the size of Texas,” Welsh said.

Welsh, who is known for his saying “every airman has a story,” said “Frank’s story is remarkable.”

“He was born about 500 miles from here, down the road in Slovenia,” he said. “His dad was a tailor, his mom a midwife. When he was four years old, his family came to America with $100 … and a dream of opportunity.”

Gorenc, who’s older brother, Stanley, retired from the Air Force in 2007 as a major general, went on to graduate with distinction from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1979 with a degree in civil engineering. He proceeded to distinguish himself along every step of his career, from being the “top gun” in his F-15 pilot training class to being named the best fighter tactician in Ninth Air Force, Welsh said.

During more than 34 years in the Air Force, Gorenc has flown more than 4,500 hours in various aircraft. He has combat and leadership experience downrange, having, for 13 months from 2005 to 2006, commanded the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base, Iraq.

Welsh in his remarks told Gorenc that when it comes to the airmen of USAFE and AFAFRICA, “I need you to lead them, I need you to inspire them, I need you to take care of them.”

Breedlove urged Gorenc to continue to “focus on preserving and strengthening” the critical relationships the U.S. military has with its European partners.

“We need to uphold the gains we have achieved in the last decade,” he said. Faced with a number of diverse tasks, from a new training mission in Afghanistan and protecting Turkey’s border to being ready to assist with humanitarian efforts in this region of the world, “more than ever, we need our allies and our partners,” Breedlove said.

Lt. Gen. Steven A. Hummer, the deputy to the commander for military operations at U.S. Africa Command and the lone Marine on stage, spoke of the important contributions AFAFRICA has made in Africa, most recently its support of French military operations in Mali.

Gorenc said he was honored and grateful for the opportunity to lead USAFE and AFAFRICA.

Addressing airmen directly, he said: “I want you to know this is a huge moment for me. From humble beginnings to four-star command, I am grateful to a country that gave me every opportunity to succeed.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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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.
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