Air Force Chief Of Staff Describes Major Role In Fight Against ISIS Gen. David Goldfein was sworn in about two months ago as the 21st Air Force chief of staff. NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Gen. Goldfein about the challenges faced by the Air Force in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
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Air Force Chief Of Staff Describes Major Role In Fight Against ISIS

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Air Force Chief Of Staff Describes Major Role In Fight Against ISIS

Air Force Chief Of Staff Describes Major Role In Fight Against ISIS

Air Force Chief Of Staff Describes Major Role In Fight Against ISIS

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/491984205/491984206" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Gen. David Goldfein was sworn in about two months ago as the 21st Air Force chief of staff. NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Gen. Goldfein about the challenges faced by the Air Force in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

General David Goldfein used to run the air war against ISIS. Now he's two months into his new job as chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. I spoke to him yesterday at his office in the Pentagon. General Goldfein recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to see how that fight is going.

CHIEF OF STAFF DAVID GOLDFEIN: My sense is that the campaign, as it's designed to retake land back from ISIL and diminish their war fighting capability, is actually gaining great momentum. We're seeing a number of indicators that Daesh is not able to push forward with any kind of complex really attacks. So they're - the trending of the campaign right now is absolutely going in the right direction.

SIEGEL: But General Goldfein says that's only one part of a much more complex assessment.

GOLDFEIN: We often get the question, are we winning? And I think to have a really useful dialogue, you have to define what that means. I had a great experience as a young major. I was aide de camp for General Mike Ryan, who was the - went on to be chief staff the Air Force. At the time, he was the air component commander that built and executed the first Bosnia campaign that resulted in the Dayton Accords.

And afterwards, when we had achieved success in the campaign, we were up at a NATO military committee conference, and many were coming up and congratulating him on this great campaign. And I never forgot his answer. He said, if it results in a better condition on the ground for those who live there then will have all been worth it. The three fundamental elements eventually come into place, which is rule of law, some semblance of governance that provides services to the people and eventually some economic base that provides jobs. So...

SIEGEL: By those standards, we're not there at all.

GOLDFEIN: By those standards, we're not there. But you know, you go back to, what is a service chief? What is the military component of moving forward in those areas? It's about creating a security environment for those to take root and grow.

SIEGEL: His role in helping create that environment is crucial, overseeing U.S. air campaigns all over the world, which are in more demand than ever and at a time when the U.S. Air Force is seeing a pilot shortage. That's for fighter jets and drones or, as the military calls them, remotely piloted aircraft. David Goldfein is the first Air Force chief to have flown both.

When Goldfein was a lieutenant colonel during the war in the Balkans, his F-16 was downed by a surface-to-air missile. He parachuted into hostile territory and was rescued by an Air Force Special Tactics pararescue team.

One big difference between piloting a remotely piloted aircraft and, say, flying an F-16 is that in either case, your craft might go down, but in the remotely piloted case, in the drone, you don't go down with it.

GOLDFEIN: Right.

SIEGEL: You've had that experience of going down.

GOLDFEIN: Yeah, thanks for reminding me (laughter) back when I was 6-foot-3.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDFEIN: Yes.

SIEGEL: The incident that I reminded you of, though, was in Serbia. Do you think about it often?

GOLDFEIN: I don't. I will tell you that I've kept up with the crew that was out there that night.

SIEGEL: Crew that rescued you?

GOLDFEIN: Yes. We've kept in close contact over the years, and I do believe that I don't think about the experience day to day. I will tell you I think about these stars and why I wear them. And in many ways, I wear them for those young airmen who risked everything to pull me out of bad guy land. And in many ways, I sit as the chief of staff of the Air Force today because of them. And so now I'm paying it back.

SIEGEL: Well, General Dave Goldfein, thanks a lot for talking with us.

GOLDFEIN: Yes, Sir. Thank you.

SIEGEL: He also pays his rescuers is back in another way. Every year, General David Goldfein, the new Air Force chief of staff, sends the men who rescued him back in 1999 a bottle of scotch.

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