SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — Shaw Air Force Base has seen a procession of new faces march into high-ranking positions recently. Since the end of May, both the 9th Air Force and the Third Army/Army Central have welcomed new commanding officers, changing the top commanders of both the Army and Air Force components of Shaw in the span of a month.
On Thursday, airmen mustered in an air hangar at the base for another change of command ceremony, this time joined by the commanding general of U.S. Central Command and a delegation of military officers from Middle Eastern nations, for the installation of a new commander of U.S. Air Forces Central, or AFCENT.
Lt. Gen. John W. Hesterman III took up the command flag from Lt. Gen. David L. Goldfein, and in the process accepted responsibility for air operations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. The 30-year Air Force veteran previously served as AFCENT's deputy commander from 2010 to 2011, along with deployments to Germany, England and Korea. He comes to the AFCENT job after serving for the previous two years at the Pentagon.
Hesterman was handed command of AFCENT by Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of the Central Command area Hesterman will now serve. Austin praised Hesterman as an "incredibly capable pilot and war fighter" who was taking over a "superstar team" that has proven invaluable to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, where he will command the nation's fleet of unmanned drones.
"In Afghanistan, AFCENT operates the largest intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance armada in U.S. history," Austin said. "They conduct daily joint patrols beyond the wire to ensure the security of our biggest combat airfield, Bagram Air Base."
Austin also talked about the close working relationship he has with the outgoing commander Goldfein, who leaves to take a position working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"I and others regularly call on Dave to think through difficult problems, and without fail he comes up with innovative and practical solutions," Austin said.
In his farewell address, Goldfein poked fun at his and Hesterman's height, referring to his successor by his nickname.
"If you had to pick two guys to be with you in a bar fight, Kid and I won't be who you'd pick," he said. "But if you want someone to strap on one of these war machines and go into a dogfight, we're who you want."
Goldfein also acknowledged a delegation of officers from the allied militaries of Jordan and Qatar, which work closely with AFCENT, and thanked them for traveling to the ceremony during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The former commander also thanked the Sumter community for all their support over the years, ever since he flew out of Shaw as a captain heading to the Gulf War.
"When I took off for my first combat mission, you took care of my family," he said. "Not a day has gone by since then that an airman hasn't been deployed out of Shaw, and you took care of each and every one of them."
His successor won't have so long to get to know the local community. Hesterman will leave almost immediately for an air base in the Middle East to oversee ongoing operations in the region. But in a quick address to the assembled airmen, the new commanding officer said that after his stay in Washington, he was excited to return to AFCENT's mission.
"I'm delighted to be back doing this exceptionally important work," he said, "and soon you'll know how proud I am to be here.
Reach Bristow Marchant at (803) 774-1272.