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Fourth Air Force commander retirement, change of command

  • Published
  • By Master Sergeant Linda E. Welz
  • Fourth Air Force public affairs
Major General Robert E. Duignan, will retire and turn command of Headquarters, 4th Air Force, over to Brigadier General Eric W. Crabtree at a change of command ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m., Sunday, January 25, 2009, here.

Brig. Gen. Crabtree, will be leaving Headquarters, Air Reserve Personnel Center, Denver, Colo., where he has been commander since September 2007.

Having faithfully served the military for 36 years, Maj. Gen. Duignan will say his goodbyes at a ceremony, which will be attended by family, friends, mentors, co-workers and subordinates, many of whom were around when he assumed the command in September 2003.

"For the first few weeks in this job, I sat back and watched to figure out what was going on. I saw some reluctance on people's part to go out and do their jobs, waiting for somebody to say something. That's not a reflection on my predecessor, that's just how things worked," said the general.

Maj. Gen. Duignan entered the U.S. Air Force in 1973, as a graduate of the University of Washington Reserve Officer Training Corps program. His career began with pilot training to fly the C-141 Startlifter. He honed his flying skills as a pilot to become an instructor and flight examiner at the 7th Military Airlift Squadron, and the 708th Airlift Squadron, Travis AFB, Calif. before transitioning into operations with the 710th MAS and the 349th Airlift Wing there.

"While at Travis, I learned a lot about flying airplanes all around the world and how much fun that was. I still have close friends from back then," he said.

In October 1989, the then Lieutenant Colonel Duignan, accepted a position in operations at the 459th Military Airlift Wing, Andrews AFB, Md., where he remained for almost three years. While in the National Capitol Region, he took the opportunity to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF), Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.

"ICAF was an opportunity to work with a bunch of different services, and civilians from all pieces of the government. The value of joint education courses is to see how the others, who have grown up in their stovepipe, handle things," said Maj. Gen. Duignan.

He accepted his first command at the 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, September 1993, moving to wing commander 13 months later, and remaining there for almost five years.

Putting the unit at Rickenbacker AFB, Ohio together in the summer of 1992 was extremely challenging according to Maj. Gen. Duignan. The unit was converting from C-130s to C-141s. "The unit didn't want to move or think it was necessary. It took me two to three months to convince them that we stood a better chance of getting what we wanted if we went there on our terms, proactively to try to find a way to bed the unit down, than if we went kicking and screaming. We flew out of there on the 3rd of April 1994 and we never went back," he said.

After leaving Ohio, and prior to assuming command of 4th AF, Maj. Gen. Duignan gained further experience at the Pentagon, Washington, D. C. and at A.F. Reserve Command headquarters, Robins AFB, Ga.

"I think seeing that much broader perspective and then bringing that back to the field, gave me the opportunity to take a deep breath and say that there are some things that we absolutely have to get done today, but there are other things that can wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow the sun's going to come up and there is going to be plenty to keep you busy. If you don't have to make the decision right now, sometimes clearing your head and thinking about it a little bit, you'll come up with a better decision, said Maj. Gen. Duignan. 

"General Crabtree will have an opportunity to just absorb what's going on here and take the time to figure out what he wants to concentrate on. I think I'm leaving him with an organization that's at the top of its game. I would just like to thank the people in 4th Air Force for all their hard work, which made my job very easy, and I've reaped the rewards of that," he added.

Reflecting on his career, the general agreed on a question and answer session. Here's what he said:

Q: Over your 36-year career, what is/are the highlight(s)?

A: Over 36 years, there are a whole lot of memories that I have that were fun things, but the highlight, that goes across the whole course of my career, is the friendships that I've made. We've got people coming to this retirement that I flew with 30 years ago. Some people I see off and on. Others I've lost contact with but I've never forgotten about them. The best job I ever had was being a wing commander. You get to kind of be in charge, and with that comes responsibility. When you get an opportunity to put all that together it really is a lot of fun, it's very rewarding. I think overall, the course of my entire career, the highlight is being able to work with great people and make real good friendships. 

Q: What is the legacy you would like to leave?

A: I like to think if there's anything, I hope is that people will remember that I worked hard and that I took the time to have fun, take care of my family and there's a combination that can always be done. You can work hard and be successful, but you've got to be sure that you don't ignore your family. I don't know if that's a legacy. I guess we'll know in 10 years. 

Q: What has been the most difficult time in your career?

A: I think when I got off active duty. I loved flying airplanes. I was doing it on active duty at Travis. I was a simulator flight examiner. I was doing what I wanted to do. When I wasn't flying, I was teaching in the simulator. I made a decision to get off active duty for various reasons, but not to go to the airlines. I joined the Reserve. It was an uncertain time, not knowing what I was going to do. 

Q: Who has been your greatest mentor and how?

A: He was a First Lieutenant. His name was Dave Earnest. He was my first aircraft commander. He took the time every trip to really make me study. He made sure we didn't just go out and fly and then have a good time. He always made me hit the books. He asked the tough questions. He made me work to be a better pilot. I'll tell you, that if you see him, he will say that he taught me everything I know, and he did. If you know how to do that when you're flying airplanes, all this other stuff is pretty simple.

Q: Will you miss flying military aircraft?

A: I don't really realize how much I miss it until I go out and do it again. It's hard work, but it's fun. Karen will tell you that when I go fly, she can tell the difference. It's kind of like recharging my batteries because it's fun. I'll miss it, but I don't do it enough right now that it's going to be something I'll think about. 

Q: Why did you stay in the military? With so many skill sets, you could have gone anywhere.

A: I always wanted to be a pilot. My first exposure to flying on an airplane was on a trip from Seattle to New York for vacation when I was 12 or 13. Then as I went through high school, I applied for a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship in the Air Force and I was selected. My plan was to go fly airplanes. The reason I stayed was because it was fun, an enjoyable job, a unique job. They actually paid us to do things that thousands of other people pay to go do. The travel has been fun. The military is another family that you really do build over the course of the years, real close friendships. I guess nothing else ever appealed to me. 

Q: What will you miss the least about being in the military?

A: It probably comes more from the end of my career-- I won't miss the hair-pulling things, the frustration that is associated with the bureaucracy and that even though we are in positions of pretty significant responsibilities, we still can't do some of the stuff we want to do. The paperwork and the time delays it takes to get everything done. But, that's such a small part. We complain about that, but that's because there's not much else to complain about. 

Q: Talk about your children, Kyle and Colleen.

A: Kyle was smart enough to realize he wasn't ready for college right after high school. He wanted to be a Marine. I think Kyle didn't want to go into the Air Force because he didn't want anyone to ever be able to say you did that or got that because your dad's a general in the Air Force. The Marines are the right place for him. They are an amazing group of people and he fits perfectly with the way they operate. The hardest thing for me to deal with when he's deployed is thinking about what he's doing. I think being a parent, in the military, and having a little more insight and information, is sometimes harder to deal with because he's in harm's way. When I know he's in the middle of where he is and there has been significant action there and not knowing that if he got hurt is scary. But, he's doing exactly what he wants to do. I just tell him to be the best at what you are doing. Whatever it is, just be better than the other guys. That doesn't mean that you've got to be arrogant. If you try to hit the other guy harder than he tries to hit you, you are probably going to get hurt, but you've got to try. Kyle is a very special young man and his sister, Colleen, is no less special. She went off to college in Boston by herself. I dropped her off one night on my way to D.C. It was a new town, she didn't know anyone. She was there for four years. Now she is a department store manager for about five different departments in Omaha, and enrolled in their store manager training program. She's very independent. She found her niche and she's figuring it out. She's doing what she wants to do and not depending on us. There's no doubt in my mind that she can handle anything that she needs to handle. I don't think she'll ever end up on our doorstep again coming home. So, they both turned out pretty least so far. I've got to get them to become independently rich so they can take care of dad. They're good kids and I'm glad they are going to get to be at the ceremony. Kyle has never had the opportunity to be at any of my ceremonies or promotions because he's always been deployed. I'm very proud of Kyle and Colleen.

Q: What will you remember about the people of 4th Air Force?

A: How hard they work. It's been my privilege of being in charge when we're at war. The thing that impresses me the most, across the board, from the headquarters through all the people in the wing is how hard they work to get the job done, even if we don't give them the right tools or resources is how hard they work to come up with the right answers. I've got a bunch of commanders that either listen to me and my philosophy or they are just the right people at the right time. They know what their job is and they go out and do it. I think that's the most impressive thing. They don't need a whole bunch of guidance. 

Q: As commander of 4th AF for the last five years and 4 months, what have you accomplished?

A: With the units that are going out of business with BRAC and how we stood up the other units - taking care of the people I think has been an accomplishment. We've increased the readiness of all the organizations. When I got here, the wing commanders would call up and ask if it was okay to do something. I'd say, "I don't know. Is it or isn't it? You're in charge, not me. I'll tell you if you're doing something wrong, and if you really think you need to have permission, call me up. But, if it's something to do with how you run a wing in your day-to-day operations, then do it." Overall, all of the things we've been tasked to do, from BRAC closures to conversions to other mission changes, have been done early and we've done everything under budget. I think we have increased the readiness way above what it could have been if people had just followed the timeline. 

Q: As NAF commander, what have you done to make the transition for a new commander easier?

A:  I think all the processes are in place for people to continue with the progress they've made. I think the emphasis we've done on the A-staff reorganization will help. We've pushed that and developed that so that the staff works very well. They know their jobs and work very well, on a daily basis, getting their jobs done. I think a new person coming in here, sitting in this chair, will have an opportunity to just absorb what's going on. So, I think I'm leaving him or her with an organization that's at the top of its game. That's not just my assessment. If I read the stuff that the command puts out, looking at every measure of merit that 4th Air Force is right at the top. 

Q: If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently?

A: I don't think I would have done a whole lot different. The Reserves had given me the opportunity to have a lot more responsible positions a lot earlier and a lot more varied than I probably would have had on active duty as quickly. Overall, I would be more than happy to start over again, 35 years ago, and knowing that this was the path I would take, I would still take it. 

Q: What helpful advice would you give to your replacement?

A: Get out of the way and let them do their job. There is a quote that I use a lot that I got from a chaplain. He gave me a book to read on time that had a quote "Leadership is not making all the decisions. Leadership is making sure that the right people are making the decisions." I think the guidance I would give anybody is let the people do their jobs. If they need help, or something goes wrong, help them. They're not going to do it your way. They're going to do it their way and they are going to get it accomplished. You've got to have people who are allowed to take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses, and help them with their weaknesses. I would just tell him to sit down and shut up and get it done. 

Q: What parting words would you like to say to the people in the NAF? To those in the headquarters?

A: Thank you for all your hard work, the dedication and effort you put in. There's not a day that goes by (and part of it is because of Kyle being a combat veteran) that I don't think about the business we're in, and that even though we're not out fighting the war directly on a daily basis, we've had many people in harm's way. Many people who have deployed and supported the war effort in various locations, both stateside and overseas. I would just like to thank you for all your hard work that made my job very easy, and I've reaped the rewards of that. I've gotten a lot of opportunity to receive accolades from the command and it really isn't me, it's the people who work's all of 4th Air Force. I guess that's the way it works, unfortunately...the people work really hard and the people in charge are the ones who end up getting the pats on the back. I know every day that it's not me doing the hard work; it's just me being able to give them what they need and then get out of the way. I've been around for 35 + years, and it's amazing what we do with such a small staff in an organization this big with this scope of responsibility. Shoot, it's a pleasure every day to see how hard everybody works. The only regret I have is that I haven't had the opportunity to tell everyone that enough. One of the things I emphasize to the commanders is to always tell somebody thanks before they go home every day, because without them doing this hard work, this would really be hard work. They are a great group of people and I have to figure some way to thank them, but I don't know if I'll be able to do it adequately. 

Q: What are your plans for retirement?

A: I'd like to learn to relax again. It's not that I worry about what's going on, but I think about it all the time. With all these wings, there's always an issue, always something. There's a crisis every day. It's a real big deal to them, and it should be. It's not necessarily as big a deal in the big picture to me. That's obviously everything in their world at that point in time and I've got all these other things to think about, and I do think about them. I wake up every day at 2:30 in the morning thinking about something. My goal in retirement would be to not do that. I may end up working. I kid around and say that my dream job is working for Lowe's or Home Depot so I can get the employee discount. I'd love to make furniture. I love doing woodworking. If I had the financial resources, I'd love to get an old house with good bones and redo it-make it something that functions. I'm talking about an old house with character or build a brand new "old" house. It's a lot easier to say that than to do it. I realize what hard work that is. I did that in college, but then someone was telling me what to do and paying me to do it. All in all, the biggest goal is to learn how to relax again. 

(Fourth AF has command supervision of the Reserve's long-range airlift and air refueling units located throughout the continental United States, Hawaii and Guam)