General Larsen retires after 36-year career

  • Published
  • By Capt. Martin Gerst
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
Sitting in his office, his desk and walls adorned with mementos of a career spanning more than three decades, Lt. Gen. Dennis R. Larsen sums up his time as an Airman with a simple description, "It's been great!"

General Larsen, Vice Commander of Air Education and Training Command, retires today after a long, distinguished career.

"When I joined the Air Force I thought I'd be in for six years and then I extended it by 30. I haven't regretted it a minute," General Larsen said.

The general followed in his family's footsteps when he joined the Air Force. His father served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and his brother was in the Air Force. General Larsen was attending college in Wisconsin at the height of the Vietnam conflict when his birth date was picked for the draft lottery.

"I was going into the military, so I joined the Air Force," the general said.

Given only two choices for his career -- pilot or navigator -- he chose pilot. "Until I joined the Air Force, I had never been in an airplane in my life. I was already signed up to become a pilot before I got to touch my first real airplane," he said.

General Larsen is a command pilot with more than 4,200 flight hours. He holds a special place in his heart for each aircraft he's flown.

The F-4 was the first fighter he flew. "Every time I see it, my heart still gets racing," he said.

"The F-16 is like having your own sports car. It's just a neat airplane to fly," he said. The F-16 is the only airframe the general flew in combat.

"I loved the F-117 because I was in on the ground floor of something special. I started working the program before the first airplane was even being built, and so I have a real soft spot in my heart for the stealth fighter, the Nighthawk," the general said.

Being part of that program was one of the many highlights of his career. "It was probably the most difficult thing that I've done because basically for four years I wasn't home all week and I came home on weekends," he said.

His family was kept in the dark about it until eight years later when the F-117 was brought out of the black world. The general was later reunited with the Nighthawk as the commander of the 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman AFB, N.M.

"I'm sure it was a wonderful opportunity, but we didn't know about it," said the general's wife, Sandi. But Mrs. Larsen was supportive of her husband nonetheless.

His dual involvement with the black world jet also made him a prime candidate for several documentaries made about the F-117 and his "claim to fame."

"Every once in a while on the History Channel or A&E my face pops up in the middle of a documentary and somebody walks up to me the next day and says 'Hey! I saw you on TV last night!'" the general said.

But what the service members who worked with him will remember most about General Larsen is that he was a caring leader.

"Our input was valued," said Master Sgt. Daniel Vega, noncommissioned officer in charge of senior leadership management. "General Larsen would take time out of his schedule to ask our opinion."

Sergeant Vega also worked for General Larsen as the superintendent of the command section when the general commanded 13th Air Force on Andersen AFB, Guam.

The general said the two things he's shaped his leadership techniques around are "taking care of my people and making sure I've listened before I make decisions."

"I saw too many leaders who just made decisions without the benefit of what their people thought," General Larsen said. "If you get their input, even if you disagree and go a different direction, as long as they know they had an input, they'll buy into whatever it is and make it happen."

And when he used that input, "he would give credit where credit was due," Sergeant Vega said.

General and Mrs. Larsen have no immediate plans to embark on a second career. For the time being they will be enjoying a little golf, fishing, and spending time with family and friends.