Gen. David Goldfein, a battle-tested command pilot who flew combat missions in the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and in NATO's 1999 air war to force the president of the former Yugoslavia to end his campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslaviathe Air Force's vice chief of staff has been nominated to be the service's next chief of staff, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
If approved, Goldfein will succeed Gen. Mark Welsh, who is retiring July 1. He has been the Air Force's vice chief of staff since August 2015.
"I'm extremely humbled by the nomination to serve as the Air Force's 21st chief of staff," Goldfein said in an Air Force release. "If confirmed, I pledge to serve our airmen and their families unwaveringly and honor our remarkable heritage and legacy of integrity, service and excellence."
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Welsh also lauded Goldfein's selection in the release.
"Gen. Goldfein possesses the experience and vision needed to address dynamic global challenges and increasing military demand," James said. "He knows how to build and sustain key partnerships, has important warfighting experience, and will exercise the critical judgment required to balance our manpower and resources as we shape tomorrow's Air Force. There is not a better person to lead our airmen into the next century of airpower dominance."
"Dave Goldfein is an airman who epitomizes warrior leadership, and that's exactly what our Air Force deserves," Welsh said. "He connects deeply with airmen, he supports their families relentlessly, and he absolutely recognizes the criticality of our service's mission. Most importantly, he and [his wife] Dawn understand the remarkable privilege they've been afforded in serving the nation."
Goldfein is a battle-tested command pilot who flew combat missions in the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. He has more than 4,200 hours flying the C and D variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the stealth F-117A Nighthawk and the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper, as well as the T-37, T-38 and MC-12W.
While flying a combat mission over Serbia in 1999, Goldfein was shot down when his F-16 was hit by a surface-air-missile.
Goldfein ejected, and trekked across farm fields, evading enemy patrols until a rescue helicopter was able to pick him up. But as the pararescuemen landed in a field to get him on board, it started to take incoming fire. Five bulletholes were later discovered in the fuselage of that helicopter.
In 2007, he told the El Paso Times that he sends the pararescuemen who rescued him a bottle of Scotch — "single malt, good quality" — every year to show his appreciation.
"We never know when some young airman is going to risk everything to come pull us out," Goldfein told the Times.
His selection appears to indicate that Defense Secretary Ash Carter wants an airman in the job with fighter combat experience, especially at a time when the Air Force is waging a heavy air campaign against the Islamic State militant group, sometimes abbreviated as ISIS or ISIL.
In a February interview with Military Times, Goldfein said he believes the core missions of the Air Force remain the same in the face of improving technology and changing global politics.
"We have five missions that we were given in the National Security Act of 1947, and those missions really haven't changed significantly over time," he said. "They've morphed, and we've got to think about them, but air and space superiority is something that we as an Air Force do that's central to what we're bringing the nation."
And Goldfein's selection could give the venerable A-10 Warthog a new lease on life for engagements against ISIS.
"When we made decisions on retiring the A-10, we made those decisions prior to ISIL," Goldfein told Military Times. "We were not in Iraq, we were coming out of Afghanistan to a large extent. We didn't have a resurgent Russia at the time frame that we were talking about retiring the A-10, and so when the assumptions change and they don't pan out, we've got to be agile enough to adjust."
Goldfein's first big obstacle could be Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has had a famously contentious relationship with Air Force leaders such as Welsh, whom he publicly admonished last month over the service's plan to retire the A-10.
That Goldfein, like McCain, was shot down in combat may help to engender a more amicable relationship from the start. The general's openness to keeping the A-10 should help as well.
The SASC has not yet scheduled any hearings for Goldfein's nomination, but McCain said he does not anticipate any major problems or delays with the process.
"He has an excellent bio and an excellent reputation," McCain said. "From everything I've heard, he is pretty impressive."
Goldfein graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1983 and soon thereafter began his undergraduate pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. He worked his way up the ranks, commanding the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base in Italy, the 366th Operations Group at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, and the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
He became director of operations for Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia in 2009, commanded Air Forces Central Command in Southwest Asia from 2011 to 2013, and was then-director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon for two years.
He received his fourth star and became the second-highest ranking officer in the Air Force last August, after former vice Gen. Larry Spencer retired. He has received a Defense Distinguished Service Medal with an oak leaf cluster, a Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor device and an oak leaf cluster, among other decorations.
Goldfein comes from a military family with a long history of service. His father served in the Air Force, as did his brother, retired Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein.
He also has a daughter currently serving in the Air Force. His wife, Dawn, is a school teacher and has served on the board of Officers' Spouses Clubs around the world, according to her bio on the Military Child Education Coalition website.
He also wrote a book, published in 2001, called "Sharing Success, Owning Failure: Preparing to Command in the 21st Century Air Force."
Leo Shane III contributed to this report.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.