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Fourth Air Force commander prepares for what lies ahead

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Linda E. Welz
  • 4th Air Force Public Affairs
Brigadier General Eric W. Crabtree assumed command of Headquarters, Fourth Air Force, in a change of command ceremony here, January 25th.

His long and distinguished career has taken many turns, but throughout his philosophy has been to do the best you can in the job you are in.

"Don't spend too much time looking out, but instead focus on the job at hand while you prepare for what lies ahead," he said.

In the midst of the Air Force Reserve Command commander's study to define roles and missions of the numbered air forces to the combatant commanders, the general remains focused on what his units can provide to them.

"When General Duignan left, he told me I would have a three-year window to accomplish something that would have a lasting impact here," he said. "That's what General Stenner is doing (with the AFRC study)." (Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr. is Chief of Air Force Reserve, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., and Commander, Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Ga.)

General Crabtree completed a three-year strategic plan as commander of the Air Reserve Personnel Center, where he was previously assigned. The plan consisted of eight goals with 18 sub-objectives, he said.

"That would be good to do here. Each functional would set goals that are reachable, short-term and measurable."

All three AFRC NAFs have received new commanders within the last four months, which makes redefinition of the NAF roles and missions especially important to the command, the general said.

"Here we (the NAF commanders) have a broad spectrum of understanding, and we rely on the people who do the work to know their jobs. Successful leaders should have the ability to surround themselves with quality, competent people and then rely on them and listen to their advice -- whether they are military or civilians," the general said. "They have the history and background. That level of continuity and expertise is crucial."

As he settles in to his new command position, General Crabtree looks forward to the opportunity to get to know those people and visit the wings.

"I have the chance to see things on a larger scale here than at a wing level, which gives me the ability to focus on force development to make a positive impact on people's lives," he said.

He will be looking for ways to enhance career development and enrich experiences with a concept of an operational to strategic Reserve force, he said.

"Going into the future, we need to focus on both for a balance."

After passing out decorations at a recent commander's call, General Crabtree reminded his supervisors to recognize deserving Airman and, at the very least, to know when each of their people is due for an award.

"A team that works together needs connectivity. We have to know each other," he said. "Take time to listen and talk with your co-workers who may be dealing with the stresses of our way of life." He specifically reminded his staff, "We are models to the wings. We need to present ourselves at inspections and in all other dealings as exceeding all standards."

His wife of 15 years, Elizabeth "Beth" Crabtree, is familiar with those stresses as she is not only the spouse of a general officer, but also a retired Chief Master Sergeant.

"Being a retired chief gives her a perspective on the enlisted force that, as a leader, I sometimes forget. The counsel I get from her benefits everyone. She asks me to consider how my decision will affect the junior enlisted and others," he said.

"I don't see my husband's job as any different. He's just stepped up and has more people to consider now. I came out of the 4th Air Force staff. Our only job then was to support the wings," said Mrs. Crabtree. "My job now is to support the spouses of the wing commanders and command chiefs."

It is important for them to work together to support their military spouses and for us to be here for them, she said. Mrs. Crabtree will have her first chance to do just that in July as the 4th Air Force commanders, command chiefs and their spouses meet in Riverside for the 4th Air Force Commander's Conference.

Mrs. Crabtree is a real organizer, said the general, which could be attributed somewhat to her many years working in protocol. She was also a travel planner for Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft Corp. billionaire, Bill Gates.

General Crabtree was no stranger to the rich and famous either. Bobby Kennedy was a high school classmate of his.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Brigadier General Eric W. Crabtree grew up in a little town in upstate New York, south of Buffalo, called Cassadaga. He said there were about 800 people there. He was awarded a scholarship in high school, which afforded him the opportunity to attend the Millbrook School for Boys his junior and senior years. It was a good school with a lot of famous New Yorkers' kids attending, he said. In addition to the Kennedy's, the Roosevelt family was also represented there.

After graduation, he attended a small, liberal arts college, St. Lawrence University, near the Canadian border where he began pre-med studies. His mother, a nurse, encouraged him to get a job as an orderly at the local hospital when he wasn't busy with his school work. It was then that he discovered that the medical field was not for him.

"I just couldn't see myself cutting someone open with a scalpel," he said.

He had an English department advisor who encouraged him to pursue an English degree.

"When I graduated with a degree in English, I wondered what I would do now," he said. There were two possibilities, teaching or library science. He chose the latter as the information age had begun.

During his senior year, military recruiters were on campus. They spoke with him about flying. Once again, changing career directions, he opted to forgo the exciting future in library science and pursue his dream of flying. He credits his father, who was in the Army Air Corp during WWII, for instilling in him a love for airplanes.

In 1974, the end of the Vietnam era and one month after graduation, he entered Officer Training School. Upon graduation he was assigned to an F-4 unit where he attended undergraduate navigator training, followed by pilot training. That training was the most challenging time of his military career, he said.

"Pilot training is an intense program. It's stressful, challenging, difficult, but enjoyable."

That training taught him to stay focused, especially during a one-year, remote tour to Korea, he said.

"There was always the anticipation that war could start any time. It was kind of scary, but that gave intensity to the job," he said.

Fifteen years into his career, while working in command and control, he decided he needed to look elsewhere for a viable career track, as all the senior positions were going to the fighter community, he said. The airlines were doing heavy hiring, but what caught his attention was an advertisement for the Air Reserve Technician Program he received in the mail with some separation paperwork. He called some Reserve units in his area and found two to three available positions. In 1989, he was hired into his first ART job at the 934th Airlift Wing, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Air Reserve Station, Minn.

General Crabtree said one thing that stands out in his memory the most about his career is the people he has met and the friends he has made.

"I still keep in touch with General Lessel, who was in pilot training with me." (Maj. Gen. Erwin F. Lessel III, is Director of Plans, Programs, Requirements and Assessments, and Director of the San Antonio Joint Program Office, Headquarters Air Education and Training Command.)

"General Crabtree was one of the first Air Force Reserve officers I had ever met. He was a super classmate, a great pilot and a tremendous leader. Who would have thought that nearly thirty years later, we would still be friends and serving in senior leadership positions in our great Air Force. General Crabtree and I both have airlift backgrounds and have crossed paths many times throughout our careers. It just goes to show how important early friendships and networking can be. Fourth Air Force is indeed fortunate to have a great leader and a great friend of mine as its commander," said General Lessel.

Another friend General Crabtree keeps in touch with is General North. "We were lieutenants together in Korea in 1979." (Lt. Gen. Gary L. North is Commander, Air Combat Command.)

"It's always wonderful to see old friends in our Air Force selected for greater positions of leadership responsibility. You could tell 30 years ago that (then) Lieutenant Eric Crabtree was a special officer who had all the potential for great success, and we all knew his would be a long and distinguished career. His leadership over three decades in the service of our nation and our Air Force serves as a standard for all to emulate," said Lt. Gen. North. "The Airmen of Fourth Air Force have a great commander in Brigadier General Eric Crabtree!"