ORLANDO, Florida — During a Friday morning speech to airmen, the Air Force’s top general revealed he has a recoverable condition called Bell’s palsy, but will receive treatment and continue on as chief of staff.
After a 19-day marathon trip to the Asia-Pacific — which included stops in India, South Korea, the Singapore Airshow and Guam — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein discovered that he was showing signs of Bell’s palsy, a recoverable condition where a patient suffers from temporary facial paralysis.
“First things first. ‘Chief, what’s with the crooked face and the blurred speech?’” he said at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, before recounting the details of his long jaunt to the Pacific.
“It was a spectacular trip, and then I woke up last Saturday morning with half of my face completely frozen, and it turns out it’s this thing called Bell’s palsy. So here’s the good news: It’s fully recoverable, I’m on the mend, and it only hurts you when I laugh,” he joked.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bell’s palsy can be caused by facial nerve trauma resulting from viruses like the flu or viral meningitis. Most patients begin recovering within two weeks of treatment and return to normal in three to six months, a fact sheet stated.
About 40,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year.
During the speech, Goldfein appeared to show symptoms of Bell’s palsy, delivering his speech with a slight slur and partially frozen facial features. However, his disposition seemed jovial, and he took every opportunity to joke about his condition — including his ongoing treatment.
“If you know me, you know I believe that every challenge in life that we’re in is an opportunity,” he said. “And so it turns out that the treatment, the most effective treatment for this condition is acupuncture.”
As he delivered that line, an image of a frozen Jack Nicholson from “The Shining” was projected on the screen behind Goldfein, spurring laughter from the audience.
When Goldfein took over the chief of staff job from his predecessor, Gen. Mark Welsh, he had counseled Goldfein to be careful not to take on too many long international trips.
“And of course I didn’t take his advice,” Goldfein said.
But it turns out Goldfein is not the first top Air Force four-star to be diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. Famed former Gen. Curtis LeMay, the fifth chief of staff, also suffered from the condition.
“It turns out because he never actually truly recovered, he started smoking cigars so he could hide this disfigurement,” Goldfein said.
Behind Goldfein appeared another image: A black and white photo of LeMay with a cigar in his mouth next to a similarly posed shot of Goldfein biting down on a cigar.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.