LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (ACCNS) -- Air Combat Commands sixth commander, Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, retires from the Air Force Wednesday, three years and three days after taking the leadership helm for the command and the air components for both U.S. Joint Forces Command and U.S. Northern Command.
As he approaches retirement, the 36-year veteran recalls how it all began as a forward air controller in South Vietnam flying sorties at around a thousand feet, and how his experiences throughout his career prepared him for the day he took command of ACC.
We did a lot of flying (in Vietnam), he said. I flew three months worth of flying in one month just covering the Army. We got them out of a lot of scrapes, and they really were appreciative of it. We got to know those people very closely. We lived with them.
But, the general said his greatest war story wasnt any of those missions or any particular sortie. In fact, it didnt happen until nearly two dozen years later in a different Asian nation.
It was just the ability to take great men and women from Seymour Johnson [Air Force Base, N.C.] over to Desert Shield and Desert Storm and be a wing commander in combat, he said. That's something, fortunately, very few people get to do, and I say fortunately because we don't want to be in combat. We want to be preparing for it.
Every day I was on active duty prepared me for the next day.
Throughout those days of preparation, General Hornburg has seen the Air Force go through many changes. He scoffs at critics who say the service is not very transformational.
The Air Force has been the most transformational service of any since its inception, he said. The first transformation was we went from conventional to nuclear. Then we went from air-breathing to space. Then we went from non-stealthy to stealthy, and from non-precise to precise. So, we have been transforming our capabilities since we started.
The general said his preferred term for transformation is vectored evolution.
We have to have a vector, he said. We need to know where we're going, and rather than transform, I think we need to evolve. You need to know where you're going to go, you have to know where you are, you have to have a notion of where you want to be, and then the plan is how we're going to get there.
To spur vectored evolution within ACC, the general established focus areas shortly after taking command. The general said he wanted the command to focus on mission areas rather than programs.
Additionally, another part of evolution results from new situations creating new requirements, and those requirements inspiring innovation, he said. Old systems are being used in new ways everyday.
We always have an operational baseline understanding of how things will be used, but things are being used in different ways because they're in the hands of innovative Airmen, General Hornburg said.
One great example is going back to the early days of Afghanistan when we were resupplying our Airmen on the ground. Two of the things we had to push out of the back of C-130s to our ground tactical air controllers we never had to think of before were hay for their horses and saddle liniment because our Airmen were on horseback on wooden saddles. We didn't know how to do it, so we said if we do so and so, we'll be able to get this done. The adaptability and ingenuity of the young American is phenomenal. We've got great people with great heads on their shoulders.
That adaptability comes from what the general said is ACC's biggest contribution to the global war on terrorism -- its Airmen.
Trained and ready Airmen bring the capability of their systems as well, he said. Having trained people rather than just sending rookies has been a fundamental positive impact.
What we've done as a command has been different than in years gone by, but I think keeping people at the forefront has been something we've needed to do, he added. People fundamentally understand that people are the most important asset in the Air Force. We have got to continue to work in a very tangible, visible manner to make sure our Airmen know how much they're appreciated.
General Hornburgs focus on people ensured vector evolution also included the equipment they use.
We're able to fight better because we can command and control our stuff better, the general said. We've made lots of changes to our airframes. Just in the last three years, we've introduced two new advanced targeting pods. We have introduced the 500-pound JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition], which helps greatly in limiting collateral damage. We've modernized and put new systems and data links onto many of the F-15s that we have. We just continue to modernize. As we deploy the next A-10s over the next AEF cycle, they will have a precision engagement capability.
Our capability and our effects-based look at what we do have just really grown. I think it's going to just get better in the next three years. Every year, we're going to have better capability.
Those new capabilities include the F/A-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The first operational Raptor arrives here in the spring, and the F-35 is slated for delivery to the Air Force in 2008.
We absolutely need (the F-35), General Hornburg said. But with every program change, I have to look at spending some of that money to modernize other airplanes like F-15Es or F-16s. Specifically for STOVL [short takeoff and vertical landing], you'd have to look at keeping the A-10s around a little bit longer if we're not going to get the STOVL variant. So every time there's a fundamental programmatic shift, it causes me to rethink what our legacy fleet ought to look like.
In general, the less new stuff we have, the more old stuff we have to modernize and keep, he said. To me, that means we're going to need to recapitalize and modernize our legacy fleet. We make the argument we don't need as many airplanes tomorrow as we do today because those airplanes will have greater capability. But there is a floor beyond which we can't go or that capability will be diminished.
No matter what the make up the future airpower fleet, General Hornburg said cost will drive the Air Force to make difficult choices between weapons systems.
These are issues that will always cause pressures on the defense budget, he said. Defense doesn't come cheap and America's going to get what it pays for, so the debate has to be how much do we need. Every waking day, we are as good stewards of the American taxpayers' dollar as we possibly can be and do our very, very best not to waste a dime. There are just too few dimes to go around.
With the generals retirement, the flight lead for that stewardship passes on to his successor. General Hornburg said the new commander will come in with his own ideas on how to do things.
Im glad for the command that Im leaving at the time I am, he said. I think it is time for a new guy to come in here with fresh ideas. Change is good for an organization. Whatever he does, hes got my full support, as I had the support of my predecessors.