Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast, commander of Air Education and Training Command, visited Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., July 20, 2018.
Accompanied by his wife, Joni, Kwast visited various base facilities and units involved in the production and sustainment of flight operations in order to gain better insight into the 56th Fighter Wing’s mission to train the world’s greatest fighter pilots and combat-ready Airmen.
“Whenever a new leader gets in the chair, one of the most important things you have to decide is what you have to learn in order to help your organization,” Kwast said. “Prioritizing what it is you have to learn and learning it fast enough to be helpful is tough, which is why I need to know the things I can do to help [Airmen].”
Kwast, who began his Air Force career after graduating with an astronautical engineering degree from the Air Force Academy in 1986, commanded numerous units at the squadron, group, and wing levels and served in deputy and executive command positions at the Pentagon before assuming command of the AETC.
Kwast himself graduated from fighter training at Luke in 1988 as an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter pilot, and has since accrued more than 3,300 flying hours, including more than 650 combat hours during operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Allied Force and Enduring Freedom.
“I want the [56th Fighter Wing] to drive the curriculum of pilot training,” Kwast said. “I want [the 56 Fighter Wing’s pilots] to be at a higher cognitive complexity with regard to strategic thinking and the art of competitive advantage.”
Kwast’s visit included touring the Academic Training Center, where student pilots learn F-35A Lightning II flight and combat fundamentals in a classroom and simulator setting, the Tactical Integrated Training and Nutrition Arena, a specially-designed high-performance athletics facility for operationalizing the human weapons system, the 63rd Fighter Squadron, which maintains an international F-35 pilot training mission, and other units integral to building the future of airpower.
During a part of his visit, Kwast recounted the experiences of the base’s namesake, World War I fighter pilot 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr., who was posthumously awarded the first Medal of Honor given to an aviator.
“When the airplane was invented, the Army said, ‘Why would we invest in this fragile machine when we have balloons that can do the same thing?’” Kwast said. “It was after they saw what Frank Luke Jr. did to a balloon with an aircraft that they said, ‘Holy cow.’ They were thinking myopically. They could not envision the potential of the airplane to change the character of war. [The F-35] will change the character of war, in ways we don’t even know yet.”