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Taking Care of Airmen

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner
  • Air Force Reserve Command
 "What's your story?" That's the question Brig. Gen. Richard Scobee likes to ask the Airmen he comes in contact with on a daily basis. And he wishes everybody else would do the same. "I love talking with our Airmen and hearing their story," he said. "The next time you see an Airman, ask him what his or her story is. I guarantee you will come away inspired and impressed."

Scobee, who is scheduled to take command of 10th Air Force Oct. 18 in a ceremony at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, certainly has an inspiring and impressive story of his own to tell. The son of astronaut and American hero Dick Scobee, the general has carved out a distinguished Air Force career that has taken him to the four corners of the Earth and is now bringing him back to the heart of Texas.

As 10th Air Force commander, Scobee will be responsible for all of Air Force Reserve Command's fighter; bomber; special operations; rescue; airborne warning and control; combat operations; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; remotely piloted aircraft; space; and cyber units.

It's a daunting task, but one that Scobee is definitely qualified for. During his career, he has served as an F-16 pilot, instructor pilot and flight examiner both domestically and overseas in Germany, South Korea and Egypt. He has commanded a fighter squadron, an operations group and two fighter wings (including the 301st Fighter Wing at NAS JRB Fort Worth), and he deployed as commander of the 506th Air Expeditionary Group at Kirkuk Regional Air Base in Iraq in 2008.

From October 2010 to October 2013, he served as deputy director of operations, Headquarters North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, where he was responsible for safeguarding the air sovereignty of North America, including Canada, Alaska and the continental United States.

Immediately before assuming command of the 10th, he served as the director of plans, programs and requirements for the Air Force at the Pentagon. In that job, Scobee was responsible for the flying hours for 17 types of aircraft in a wide variety of mission areas. Also, plans, programs and requirements analyzes a $125 billion-per-year program that recommends and presents options to senior leaders and is the Air Force Reserve conduit for coordinating change with the chief of the Air Force Reserve to meet the needs of the Air Force.

Scobee was a senior at the Air Force Academy, just three months shy of graduation, when his father commanded the Space Shuttle Challenger for Space Transportation System mission 51-L in January 1986. The mission was designed to deploy a satellite to study the approaching Halley's Comet and to inaugurate the Teacher in Space program. Launch was delayed numerous times due to bad weather and technical issues. When Challenger did finally lift off the launch pad, an O-ring seal failure led to an explosion that destroyed the shuttle 73 seconds into the flight, killing the general's father and the other six members of the crew.

Most of the country was watching live on national television at the time.

"The whole world got to see how my dad died. I wish they could have seen how he lived," Scobee said. "He was a great father. I was not the most talented kid growing up, but when my dad was around it was like every pitch I threw was a strike and every time I swung the bat it was a home run. He had a way of making you feel special."

Scobee said his dad was a mechanic at heart, who kept pushing himself to reach greater heights.

"Dad was the first enlisted astronaut and the first mobility Air Force astronaut," the general said, noting that his father enlisted in the Air Force in 1957, serving as an engine mechanic at Kelly AFB, Texas. While off duty, he attended San Antonio College and eventually earned a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Arizona in 1965, the same year he was awarded an officer's commission. He earned his pilot's wings in 1966 and served as a combat aviator in the Vietnam War before going on to become a test pilot and eventually an astronaut.

"I remember asking him one time how do you go from turning wrenches to being the commander of the space shuttle, and he said, 'Just do the best you can in whatever job you are doing at the time and always be prepared.'"

The general has tried to follow that advice wherever he has gone in his Air Force career, and he'll continue trying to do so as the 10th Air Force commander. He said his No. 1 priority will be to provide the best combat Air Force at the least possible cost for the American taxpayer. He is going into his new job with a couple of tough hurdles to overcome.

"I think the biggest challenges facing us right now are money and aging weapons systems," Scobee said. "We are operating in an environment right now that is fiscally restrained, and we are having to operate with an aging fleet of aircraft. Those two factors combine to create some difficult obstacles."

Still, Scobee believes he has the answer to overcoming these obstacles, and that answer is the 16,000 people who work throughout the 10th Air Force.

"I know it's a little cliché, but our Airmen truly are our greatest asset," he said. "I know if I can take care of our Airmen, they can take care of the mission."

Taking care of his Airmen is a lesson Scobee learned early on in his career and one that has been reinforced over the years.

"When I was in Iraq, my command chief was Chief Master Sgt. Gary Brown, and I remember he told me one time, 'If you ever fail our Airmen, I will find you and I will put a boot in your ... shin,'" the general recalled. "Those words definitely stuck with me."

Scobee remembers having to hit the ground running in Iraq -- an assignment he considers one of the highlights of his career.

"The third day I was there, we had a vehicle improvised explosive device go off, and we had 26 casualties," he said. "I wish every American citizen could have been there that day to see our Airmen go to work and help the people who were injured. The skill and the passion they displayed were incredible. I have never been more proud of our people or more proud to wear this uniform."

Brown, who currently serves as the command chief master sergeant to the commander of the 310th Space Wing, Schriever AFB, Colorado, remembers that day, and he remembers the leadership Scobee provided.

"General Scobee was without a doubt the best commander I have had in my 32-plus years of military service," he said. "He is absolutely passionate about taking care of his Airmen. From the chow hall to having the right equipment and the right training, he makes sure his Airmen have everything they need to do their job."

Brown said he was especially impressed with the way Scobee went about making important decisions.

"He truly listened to his people," the chief said. "He took input from everybody before deciding on a course of action, and he always used sound judgment."

Brown said he is confident Scobee will do a great job of leading the men and women who work under the 10th Air Force umbrella.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he will be a great NAF commander," he said.

Maj. Gen. William Binger, the current 10th Air Force commander, agrees. "I couldn't be happier for 10th Air Force and personally for General Scobee," he said. "He is a great leader with the poise, personality and dedicated leadership to take the 10th to the next level."

Binger went on to say that "it's truly been an honor to serve with the men and women in 10th Air Force. Their dedication and commitment to excellence ensured 10th Air Force units remained combat-ready. It has been a pleasure to lead the Air Force's most diverse NAF these past three years.

"Though we reduced the 10th Air Force staff footprint, we gained two new independent group organizations and are about to add another wing. We have expanded the Air Force Reserve's operational reach into new and emerging missions, like ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and cyberspace and added capability in space and special operations. Our active associations in the A-10 and F-16 are Air Force model programs that increase fighter pilot absorption, seasoning and experience of young active-duty fighter pilots."

Scobee said he is excited about his new assignment and returning to the Fort Worth area, but he is most excited about having the opportunity to serve the people who work throughout 10th Air Force.

"My dad taught me the importance of service," he said. "And I couldn't be more proud to serve as the commander of 10th Air Force."