TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield will officially retire June 5, after more than three decades of service in the U. S. Air Force.
“You want to stay for as long as you can, as long as you can make a meaningful contribution, but at some point you have to make way for the next generation,” he said. “It’s time to let those whom we have mentored, make the Air Force better.”
The general leaves behind a legacy of looking at challenges as opportunities, and finding indescribable personal rewards in being a part of high-performance teams.
“As life unfolds, we have a lot of competing priorities. These priorities can be grouped into crystal and rubber balls. You can drop a rubber ball and it will bounce back. However, if you take your eye off the crystal ball and it drops, it will shatter,” Litchfield said.
Without question, family is a crystal ball to General Litchfield. He places a premium on focusing on the things that truly matter in life. He and his wife, Linda, commissioned into the Air Force on the same day. But finding joint assignments became a challenge, so Linda switched to the Air Force Reserves and then eventually retired in 2005.
“It was difficult to have two active-duty members in a family,” Linda said. They both agree that the hardest challenge is finding balance. But the general foot-stomps that family comes first.
“After your Air Force career is over, you need to have kept your family a priority so that you have one to come home to,” he said.
A Connecticut native, General Litchfield attributes his family’s success to his wife. “She was relentless in keeping holiday traditions, or making our own traditions,” he said. “She made sure we had a ‘home’ wherever we went, and that our children were able to make the necessary transitions during our moves.”
General Litchfield’s children, one in high school and one in college, agree that getting to know a variety of people throughout their journey is one of the best characteristics of being a “military brat.” Linda explained that each location offered a new adventure and made them more well-rounded and confident to take on new activities.
The avid golfer recommends everyone find and then take advantage of down time. “I always tell people to take family vacations to reinvigorate yourself,” he said. “You need to take down time and not feel guilty about it.”
While his family supported him at home, it was his hard work and dedication that helped him become one of only 44 lieutenant generals currently in the entire active-duty Air Force.
Since he is a three-star general, people ask him what they need to do to get to his level one day. His advice is simple, “Whatever job you have, you need to do it to the best of your ability.” It’s not about striving to become a general officer, it’s about working the hardest at the job you currently have that will pay off in the long run.
But, the general is the first to admit that the Air Force has changed a lot since he came in, and the service is asking more of its people. Taking a snapshot at the beginning of the general’s career and comparing it with today’s Air Force, would almost look like two different organizations. Decades after ending the Cold War, the current Air Force is focused on expeditionary power with the understanding that we couldn’t execute our mission without the help of our sister services, he explained.
“Today it’s about a joint environment and our ability to work together,” he said. “We have high-tech capabilities that allow us to make quick changes on the battlefield. We’re smaller in size, but mightier in capabilities. In Operation Desert Storm, only 15 percent of our ammunition was ‘smart weapons,’ but today, we depend on ‘smart weapons’ for every operation.”
The general’s understanding of this ever-changing defense environment has helped him lead the Air Force Sustainment Center to its success in delivering significantly more capability at less cost since standing up in 2012. He saw AFSC’s place in the overall Air Force and was able to translate that through a variety of tools to include the Leadership Model, AFSC Way and “Road to a Billion” initiatives. He saw that improving every aspect of our business was an enabler for a stronger Air Force and the way to thrive with declining budgets.
His rallying call for the last two years is that the “cost of readiness will determine the size of our force.” It was paramount that everyone understands we have two options: cut spending while reducing capability or improving the way we do business which yields more capability at less cost. He chose to improve the way we do business.
The workforce responded with an all-in attitude, allowing AFSC to increase aircraft and parts production and decrease supply support backlog of critical assets, essentially increasing the wartime readiness of the Air Force as a whole. All while saving the Air Force more than $1.4 billion. General Litchfield did exactly what he set out to do — make the Air Force better.
“This has been an incredible experience,” he said. “We were able to shape the Air Force for future generations.” We stood up the Air Force Sustainment Center, improved the way we sustained fielded weapon systems, and set the foundation for supporting new systems. ” It’s going to be 20-30 years before someone gets to do this again — it’s been amazing.”
The general acknowledges that none of this could have been accomplished without the steadfast support of our community partners. “The Wingman culture in not bounded by a fence line; the community is vital to improving mission effectiveness and supporting our dedicated professionals. The patriotic spirit is alive and well across AFSC at every location.”
The oval graphics associated with his Leadership Model are visible throughout work centers across AFSC, and are a gentle reminder to this 35,000-person organization that what we do is critical to our Air Force mission. But, his lasting impact ties back to the opportunities for a “great day to fly” along with holding himself and his workforce accountable, by asking them to “keep ’em flying … it’s what we do.”