RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Gen. Philip M. Breedlove took command of U.S. Air Forces in Europe from Gen. Mark A. Welsh III today in a change of command ceremony here.
Presiding over the ceremony, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz praised Welsh's past accomplishments and Breedlove's future potential as the commander of USAFE, Allied Air Command Ramstein, and U.S. Air Forces Africa.
"These two men are quintessential Air Force leaders -- innovative, forward looking and strategically oriented," Schwartz said. "They are both Airmen's Airmen -- one an incumbent commander and the other eager and incoming. Both are exactly the kind that we need to serve at the helm of the United States Air Forces in Europe as the command conducts its very important mission."
USAFE is an Air Force major command and is the air component for two Department of Defense unified commands -- U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command. As the air component, USAFE directs air operations in a theater spanning three continents, covering more than 19 million square miles, containing 105 independent states and possessing more than a quarter of the world's population and more than a quarter of the world's Gross Domestic Product.
Schwartz said Breedlove, who is USAFE's 35th commander, played an instrumental role in leading the Air Force during his tenure as the Air Force's Vice Chief of Staff.
A command pilot with more than 3,500 hours, Breedlove has served in six command positions since earning his commission in June 1977.
"You have demonstrated your effectiveness as a commander and a leader," Schwartz said. "You have gained the experience and the genuine credibility to back it all up."
Breedlove's experience will prove invaluable during his tenure as USAFE commander, Schwartz said.
"We look forward to your incredible leadership -- to your mission first, people always approach which emphasizes empowerment and inspires success, all the while demanding performance," he said.
Breedlove has served nearly a third of his 33 year career in USAFE with assignments in Spain, Italy and Germany and said he and his wife welcome the new assignment.
"Cindy and I feel like we are coming home," he said. "I'm glad to be back."
Additionally, Breedlove acknowledged USAFE's NATO partners and the past relationships they developed.
"I'm really excited to be a part of this team," he said to the more than 700 service members and allied partners attending the ceremony. "I look forward to working with you as we continue to shape NATO airpower to support our joint force."
He said since departing Ramstein in 2009 as the 3rd Air Force commander, he watched the growth of the command and its partners.
"You all have done so much since I left," said Breedlove. "I watched you with pride. You were amazing and your reputation for excellence now is worldwide. I'm so proud to be back as a part of the leadership of this team."
Welsh and Breedlove share a camaraderie that began when they were stationed together as young lieutenants in the late 70's at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz.
"He brings a passion to this work and a commitment to teamwork that you are going to admire," said Welsh, who, if confirmed will take over as Air Force chief of staff from Schwartz who is scheduled to retire in August.
Under Welsh's leadership, USAFE has flourished in the range of its achievement and the scope of its impact, said General Schwartz who presented Welsh with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal first oak leaf cluster.
Schwartz said Welsh's experience at each level of command has provided a foundation for success as USAFE commander, and to the command's invaluable support to Operations Enduring Freedom, New Dawn, Nomad Shadow, Odyssey Dawn, and its NATO partners.
Giving credit to Betty Welsh for her efforts, Schwartz said the two Welsh's will make significant contributions to the Air Force's future.
"All of these experiences have not only developed a highly regarded and highly effective, yet humble and grounded leadership team, they also serve as exemplars of judgment, performance and results which give us deep confidence in their abilities and offer an entirely optimistic outlook for the future of our Air Force should the Senate confirm his nomination as CSAF," said Schwartz said.