New command leader takes reins at Shaw

Air Force brigadier general to play key role in Afghanistan and Iraq wars

jwilkinson@thestate.comFebruary 17, 2010 

SUMTER - Brig. Gen. Mark Graper has been named vice commander of the U.S. Air Force Central Command based at Shaw Air Force Base.

Graper, a one-star general who now commands the 354th Fighter Wing in Alaska, will take over the reins of the stateside AFCENT staff in March.

AFCENT commander Mike Hostage, the three-star general over all Air Force personnel fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, made the announcement during a whirlwind 20-hour visit here Tuesday.

Hostage also addressed the recent rocket attack in Afghanistan that killed 12 civilians, saying that coalition forces "are doing everything we can" to limit civilian casualties, "but it happens." He also said U.S. production of unmanned surveillance equipment isn't keeping up with ground commanders' requests.

"We're in a maximum effort to produce it," he said. "But the ground force commander says 'Give me more. Give me more. Give me more.'"

Hostage - who took command of AFCENT six months ago - was making the visit to Shaw from his Persian Gulf headquarters.

Graper will handle AFCENT duties stateside and report to Maj. Gen. Stephen Hoog, the two-star vice commander under Hostage, also headquartered in the Persian Gulf.

Last August, the Air Force split AFCENT and the 9th Air Force - also based in Shaw - into two commands.

The 9th Air Force, now commanded by two-star Gen. William Holland, is responsible for training and equipping units to prepare for deployment.

AFCENT is the Air Force component currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hostage reports directly to U.S. Central Command.

Some questioned whether the split - which places a permanent commander of lower rank at Shaw - lessened the status of Shaw in the Air Force hierarchy.

But Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Lisa Spilinek said, "We're still one command."

She noted that two-thirds of AFCENT staff are stationed at Shaw - about 800 personnel, compared with 400 people in the Persian Gulf.

Hostage noted that he calls no single installation home. He travels about 70 percent of his time, visiting the 30 military installations that house 30,000 U.S. airmen under his command.

He also frequently visits military and political leaders in the 20 nations in his territory, from northern Africa and the Middle East to central Asia.

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