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Wolters takes command of USAFE at a challenging time

Gen. Tod Wolters, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa commander, assumes command during the USAFE assumption of command ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 11, 2016

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Gen. Tod D. Wolters took charge Thursday of U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa, stepping into a vastly different security environment than the one his predecessor faced three years ago, before Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and the rise of the Islamic State.

Wolters follows in the footsteps of Gen. Frank Gorenc, who plans to soon retire after leading USAFE-AFAFRICA at the tail-end of a 37-year Air Force career.

Gorenc said during the change-of-command ceremony that when he took the helm of USAFE-AFAFRICA, “European and African stability and security for the most part seemed to be unchallenged and appeared to be everlasting.”

But then “an aggressive Russia, a rising ISIS and a devastating Ebola virus epidemic erupted simultaneously,” he said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State group. These events led to changes that have “undermined security and stability all over Europe and Africa.”

“Today, Libya, migration, terrorism at home and abroad and other sovereign national issues continue to disturb the world order,” Gorenc said.

But Gorenc and the other four-star generals who shared the stage for the ceremony agreed that Wolters was more than qualified for the job.

“He is an airmen’s airman, but he is also a seasoned joint warrior with tremendous credibility in the joint world,” Gorenc said, encouraging USAFE-AFAFRICA airmen to give Wolters their hard work, loyalty and trust.

Gen. Curtis M. Scaparroti, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme commander, said Wolters is “the right person at the right time for this command,” citing his combat experience and “strategic vision.”

“The change in the security environment is going to require your very best,” Scaparroti said.

Wolters, a fighter pilot with combat experience and nearly 5,000 flight hours, comes to Europe after a year on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, where he was the director of operations. He also takes charge of Allied Air Command Ramstein from Gorenc.

Wolters has known Gorenc and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein since his days at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Gorenc graduated a few years ahead of Wolters and Goldfein. Gorenc was Goldfein’s cadet squadron commander and he later was Wolters’ wing commander at Langley Air Force Base in Virgina, Goldfein said.

Goldfein and Wolters met at basic training in the summer of 1978, Goldfein added, recalling how Wolters was a distinguished athlete and student at the Air Force Academy.

“I was not,” he quipped, adding: “Clearly there’s room in our Air Force for all kinds in the senior ranks.”

Since he graduated in 1982, Wolters’ overseas assignments have included stints in Europe and the Middle East.

His first began in 1983, when he was an OV-10 Bronco pilot assigned to the 704th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Sembach, which was formerly an Air Force base.

After a short time in the OV-10, a Vietnam-era turboprop light attack aircraft, Wolters went on to fly an impressive list of fighter aircraft, including the F-15C, F-22 and A-10.

Directing his remarks at USAFE-AFAFRICA airmen, Wolters said he would continue the “laser focus” on training and exercises and would build on the momentum of maintaining trust and teamwork with the command’s regional coalition partners.

“We have that trust, we have that teamwork, we have that integration,” he said. “Our adversaries do not.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

A formation salutes during the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa change-of-command ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. Gen. Tod Wolters assumed command of USAFE at the ceremony.

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