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Gen. Stephen Lorenz has lived and breathed Air Force since he was a kid. By 9 years old, he knew he would follow his father's and grandfather's footsteps into the service.
After 37 years, Lorenz will retire this fall as commander of Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Replacing Lorenz at Randolph will be Lt. Gen. Edward Rice, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force.
Lorenz, a tanker pilot whose career has included stints at the Pentagon overseeing the Air Force's budget and as commander of Air University, discussed his passion for educating junior airmen during an interview with Air Force Times.
Q: As you prepare to leave, can you talk about education and training and where you've brought it and where you hope to leave it?
I've been blessed in that throughout my Air Force career, at different times, I've done a lot in education and training. [In] this command, our three missions are recruit, train and educate, and innovate.
And what is exciting about being in education and training is you get to hang out with young people. … It's exciting to take bright, young, shiny airmen and officers and civilians — and the cohort we deal with is normally 17 to 26 — and we recruit off the top 25 percent of that year group that comes in to the Air Force.
We take them and send them to basic military training out at Lackland [Air Force Base, Texas] … and then they go to technical training, and at some time we do education and then in today's world, we send them off, many of them, right into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa to support the joint force commanders.
But what's the most exciting thing is to make a difference in their lives and to watch them grow as human beings and as airmen.
I ask them, one, to live by the Air Force core values of integrity, service and excellence, and the other two things I ask them to do is, one, always leave the campground better than you found it. I don't know what the campground is, but when you go there, whether it's a squadron, a group, a wing, leave it better than you found it; and two, make a difference in people's lives. I think if you do that, that's what it's all about.
Q: What are some of the things you wanted to make happen when you took command? Are there certain projects you wanted to put in place while you were in command?
What you do is you look across the portfolio, especially in a post-9/11 environment, and you always innovate. ... How can you better recruit? Can you use iPods? iPhones? How are the computer systems set up where you recruit the best and brightest? And, by the way, in 2010 we've recruited, we've met all of our goals, and we have the highest quality airmen we've ever had in the history of the Air Force.
Then you go train. You do things like evaluate how the wars are being fought and how we can best support the combatant commanders.
Then you send them to technical training. Let's take [remotely piloted aircraft] as an example. In the past, a few people from different career fields have become sensor operators. Now we've decided we can pull them right out of basic training after they graduate. In 59 days, we built a course out of nothing, and we start the course and we start pushing people through, which was very innovative, and we met the needs and requirements of the combatant commanders.
We've set up in cyberspace AFIT, the Air Force Institute of Technology, which is part of Air University, where we're having Cyber 200 and 300 courses where we take bright, young, shiny airmen and lieutenants and civilians who don't know anything about cyberspace and send them to courses where we educate them and train them on what's going on both in offense and defense in cyberspace.
Space training did belong to Space Command; it has been institutionalized in Air Education and Training Command, so we have Space 200 and 300 out at Peterson [Air Force Base, Colo.] and we're responsible for training people on space.
In education, we have worked very hard to get more and more distance learning. We have set up a master's program for all in Air Command and Staff College, we started in 2007 from scratch. In just three years, we've had 600 people graduate.
[There's also] associate to baccalaureate degrees, a program where in the Air Force, every course including [basic military training] is college accredited. We came up with a plan where we partnered with 40 different colleges that would agree they'll accept 100 percent of the credits that you'll get from that associate's degree.
Q: Where would you say the Air Force is going?
Today, with technology we have precision, stealth and speed. So if a kinetic weapon, a bomb or rocket, comes off a rail of an airplane, it has about a 92 percent chance of hitting within about 10 feet of its target. Technology has changed, so you have to change the way you do business.
One of the things Air Education and Training Command does, and is supposed to do, is take advantage of the most advantageous weapon that we have, and that's people's brains. We have to help them grow in intellect and thinking so that they can think ahead into the future, in the 21st century, about those people and those organizations, those countries that will do us harm, so we can outthink them.
Q: What are you going to do once you retire?
I have no earthly clue. I'm third-generation Air Force. My grandfather dropped bombs on the battleship Ostfriesland with Billy Mitchell in 1921. My father was an enlisted man during World War II and was recalled during the Korean War and retired as colonel in 1980 and was a wing commander at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois.
When I was 9 years old, I visited the United States Air Force Academy and I decided that's where I wanted to go to school. As a fourth-grader, I didn't know how I was going to get there, but I moved eight times before I was 17, went to four different high schools, and eventually I got into the Academy. I graduated in the Class of '73 and spent the last 37 years as an officer in the world's greatest air, space and cyber space force.
Q: What do you think you might miss the most?
People, without a doubt, and a sense of purpose.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add, or think I need to know?
One of the things that is special about the military ... is it's a team sport.
And [my wife] Leslie and I — Leslie's [an Air Force] brat and so am I — [know] that in order to serve our nation best, it really takes two. And throughout our Air Force and in the other services, it's amazing what our spouses do to serve all the airmen and the mission.
The spouses really make a contribution to the defense of this nation, and you can see it when [our troops] are rotating overseas over and over again and the children and the like, and I just cannot say enough or thank enough the spouses of not just the Air Force, but all the services for what they do.