Luke Air Force Base Airmen welcomed a new wing commander June 20, as Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus took command of the 56th Fighter Wing from outgoing commander Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein.
Pleus, an F-16 command pilot with more than 2,300 flying hours including combat time in operations Desert Fox and Southern Watch, comes to Luke from the Pentagon, where he served as executive officer to the chief of staff of the Air Force.
He commissioned in 1989 through the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. This is his second tour as a wing commander, having previously commanded the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, from 2011-2012.
The general is accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, and their two sons and daughter: Jared, 16; Jack, 11; and Jamie, 14.
“We are here at a great time – a crossroads if you will – as we transition from the Viper to the F-35, the most capable fighter aircraft ever built,” Pleus said. The challenge, he said, is simple: how do we build fifth-generation fighter pilots?
“We have to think differently on how we’re going to train,” he added. “We need to innovate. I need to hear your ideas on how we can do that better.”
Training fighter pilots is a family business, and that’s a huge part of what makes Airmen successful, the general said.
“Luke is a family, and Jennifer and I are proud to be part of it,” he said.
The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Michael Keltz, director of intelligence, operations and nuclear integration at Air Education and Training Command headquarters.
“General Pleus and Jennifer are fantastic folks,” he said. “We only send the best to Luke. This is arguably the hardest time at the 56th Fighter Wing as it transitions to the F-35 and we start to bring on more Foreign Military Sales partners.”
Keltz also praised Rothstein for his leadership during his tenure at the wing, presenting him with a Legion of Merit award.
Under Rothstein’s command, the wing trained more than 800 fighter pilots. Rothstein oversaw the transition of one F-16 squadron to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, the activation of the 54th Fighter Group there, and the beddown of the F-35 Lightning II at Luke.
“I’m so glad that we got to see the arrival of the first F-35 together – that was truly an historic event,” Rothstein told the audience of community leaders, elected officials and Airmen.
“I cannot be more proud to have been the 56th Fighter Wing commander,” he said. “You all are great. Airpower is not about the aircraft, it’s about the Airmen we see in this room. It is our intellectual rigor and our heart and soul that make this the best Air Force the world has ever seen.”
In a curious coincidence, Pleus’s mother was born in Issoudun, France, the same village where Lt. Frank Luke – the namesake of Luke AFB – did his aviation training in 1918 before being killed in action only a few months later.
Pleus’ mother lived in Issoudun until she was 21 years old, when she met his father, Edward, a truck driver in the U.S. Air Force.
“Issoudun was a special place not just for Frank Luke and Luke AFB, it’s also a very special place to me,” Pleus said. “I just never knew the connection.”