Shaw Air Force Base wrapped two ceremonies into one Friday, as airmen welcomed a new commanding officer for the 9th Air Force and said goodbye to their outgoing commander as he ends his military career.
Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells saw the curtain fall on his 35-year military career in a ceremony where he formally handed command of the 9th Air Force over to Maj. Gen. Jake Polumbo. It’s a transition Polumbo is familiar with. This is the third command of his career in which he’s followed Wells.
“Three times I’ve sat on this stage with Larry Wells,” he said in introducing himself to his new airmen assembled in a Shaw air hangar, “so I know he’s handing me a squadron in perfect formation, flying at the perfect speed at the perfect altitude.”
Polumbo comes to Shaw fresh off a one-year deployment to Afghanistan, where he served at the same time as Shaw’s 77th Fighter Squadron was deployed. Even while overseas, he said he heard good things about his next assignment.
“It’s important to have a great community,” he said, “and I knew I’d have one when everybody from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Doha, Qatar, told me when I got to Sumter, I would love it there.”
Gen. Mike Hostage, the commander of Air Combat Command based in Langley, Va., was on hand to formally invest command in Polumbo, a man he said had a “track record of excellence” in previous commands.
All three generals on hand Friday identified the biggest challenge facing the 9th Air Force and the rest of the U.S. military as budgetary. Rather than fighting America’s enemies, Air Force commanders in the future will have to fight against looming sequestration cuts in military spending. Hostage told the assembled airmen bluntly the military may not be able to offer them the level of support they should.
“Our challenges will be many and the choices difficult,” he said. “But because of your choices, our children are sure to grow up as free men and women.”
In a parting message to his service members, Wells said the challenges ahead can’t keep them from focusing on their mission.
“The 9th Air Force is the only command focused on training fighter pilots,” the outgoing commander said. “As the focus shifts from war, your training mission will come to the forefront. ... You need to keep your pilots trained and safe, despite limited resources.” Wells’ successor compared the uncertainties of the budget to the uncertainties of combat as a challenge today’s Air Force needs to overcome.
“(Military theorist Carl von) Clausewitz talked about the ‘fog of war.’ I like to talk about the ‘fog of sequestration,’” Polumbo said.
Later, Polumbo described his biggest challenge as commander as making sure the 9th Air Force’s resources match the mission they are tasked with, and he vowed to work with the Pentagon and legislators so that Shaw’s planes stay in the air throughout the sequestration period.
The second half of Friday’s ceremony focused on the retirement of Wells. Hostage gave a long, off-the-cuff retirement speech about Wells’ accomplishments, from being one of the first lieutenants trained to fly an F-16 to his later role in shepherding the next generation F-22 through “bureaucratic, political and technical challenges” during his time at Air Force headquarters in Washington.
Wells served three previous stints at Shaw, successively as a pilot instructor, weapons chief and operations officer, before he came back as a commander in October 2011 following an assignment as the deputy chief of staff to the United Nations Command in Korea.
At the end of the ceremony, Hostage presented Wells with the Distinguished Service Medal in a final act of recognition before his retirement.