Air Force Space Command welcomed its newest vice commander as he pinned on his third star during a ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., recently.
Lt. Gen. John Hyten made his return to AFSPC after serving as Director of Space Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, in Washington D.C. Gen. William L. Shelton Shelton, commander of AFPSC, opened the ceremony by explaining how three-star generals are selected.
“You don’t get to be a three-star via promotion board,” said Shelton. “It’s a specific job. Its’ the right timing, the right individual and you are hand-picked by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. That selection is confirmed by the Secretary of the Air Force. Then you go through a senate confirmation process that’s not about you getting that new rank, it’s about you getting that specific job.”
Hyten remembers the day he was notified by the CSAF. He said being promoted was the last thing on his mind when he was told to call the CSAF.
“I was on a bus to the Pentagon,” he said. “I got a note from my secretary that said, ‘call General Schwartz right away.’ I want you to know that good news was not at the top of my list. In a panic, I hit the Pentagon running. I called him up and he said, ‘John, I’m just letting you know that we decided to nominate you for the vice commander job at AFSPC. By the way, it comes with a third star.’
“The first thing that crossed my mind was that I get the opportunity to serve longer. That’s what we do; we serve. I’ve been in 31 years now. It is my passion … I love to serve and I love the work we do.”
Hyten is a career space officer with a multitude of assignments ranging from operational assignments at Offutt and Schriever to engineering and acquisitions assignments at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., and the Pentagon. Hyten has commanded at the Squadron, Group, and Wing level.
During his ceremony, he asked how many chief master sergeants were in the room and counted five. He reflected on how honored he was to have three four-star generals (current and retired) in the room, but the five chiefs who attended meant even more to him. While serving as the last active duty commander for the 6th Space Operations Squadron at Offutt AFB, Neb., he had an epiphany that still resonates today. He wasn’t leveraging the wealth of leadership experience in his senior enlisted corps … and it took three master sergeants to drive that point home.
While he was the commander of 6th SOPS, he had two main missions when he took the job of flying low-level weather satellites: keep the mission of flying weather satellites going strong and later close the mission down.
“I knew we could really do some amazing things if we did it right,” he said. “I was prepared for the mission, but I was not prepared for the people … the people are the mission. As a squadron commander, I thought it was my responsibility to solve every one of their problems. For a while, I was working myself to death. I rarely got home for dinner, missed my kids’ events … the squadron was doing well, but it just wasn’t taking that next step.”
That’s when he recalled the moment that changed his leadership tactics and he learned to rely on his enlisted leaders.
“One day, after a staff meeting that didn’t go very well, three master sergeants knocked on my door. They said, ‘Sir, we can see you’re upset and things aren’t going the way you want them to go. What is the problem?’ I said, ‘we’re almost there, but I can’t seem to get the airmen’s attention.’ They looked at me and said, ‘why didn’t you just ask us?’
“It hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized I was working the wrong way. I needed to work more closely with the master sergeants, not the airmen,” he said. “My job was to work with the senior NCOs and have the senior NCOs work with the junior NCOs and the junior NCOs work with the airmen … the chain of command actually works pretty well.”
Those meetings he had with the master sergeants proved to be the tipping point to give the 6th SOPS the boost needed to take that next crucial step.
“In that last year the squadron set nearly every performance record in the history of this command,” he said. “You know what else happened? I got home for dinner. I got to see the kids’ soccer games. When the squadron looked at me doing those things, they realized it was OK for everybody else to do those kinds of things, too. When I moved up to (command) a group and a wing, the chiefs became that for me. I could provide the leadership that was needed for them, but they really did the work.”
Stepping into his new job, he knows what’s ahead and he sees the new DOD strategy highlighting space and cyberspace impacting the men and women of the command.
“It reinforces the importance of space and cyberspace and everything we do as a military,” he said. “Both of those domains are now contested domains. That’s something we really didn’t think about not too long ago. It’s something we have to think about now and into the future. That’s where this command is going to have to deliver the capabilities we provide to the warfighter and people around the world on a daily basis and figure out how to do that in a different environment.”
While bringing space and cyberspace to the forefront of how the military operates, Hyten explained his focus on the way ahead.
“My expectations are twofold,” he said. “Number one, we have to continue to provide and ensure the space capabilities that have fundamentally changed the way America fights. The second thing we have to do is bring cyber up to the level of maturity that space has reached. It took us 30 years to reach this level of maturity in space. It can’t take that long in cyber. We have to move fast and we have to do that in the next couple years.”
As he settles into his new job, the general said he understands the challenges ahead and looks forward to working with the command that continues to take space and cyberspace to the cutting edge.
“It’s great to be back in Space Command in Colorado Springs,” he said. “I had a good tour at the Pentagon. It was great to work there, but it’s really great to be back in Space Command and I’m very excited to work again for General Shelton. I feel with the leadership he provides and the people here, we are going to do some amazing things.”