Unique path brings Patrick to 2nd Air Force

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Pubilic Affairs
Thirty years ago when Maj. Gen. Len Patrick graduated from the Air Force Academy, it would have been hard for him to imagine the twists and turns his career path would take before he arrived at Keesler in July as 2nd Air Force commander.

Patrick is the first civil engineer to lead a numbered Air Force. He assumed his new command July 21 and pinned on his second star Sept. 2.

"I never expected my career to take this direction," the southern California native said. "I was a stovepipe civil engineer for the first 20 years. But I've had some great experiences along the way that have prepared me well for this assignment. I'm not new to the command, I'm not new to the process, but this is an exciting new opportunity to do something at a level that few CE officers have the chance to do."

Patrick has commanded two wings and held director positions at both Air Education and Training Command and Air Mobility Command.

Now he's responsible for the development, oversight and direction of all operational aspects of basic military training, initial skills training and advanced technical training for the Air Force's enlisted force and support officers. This encompasses more than 320 Air Force specialties covered by 2,700 courses.

About 192,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and international students are trained annually in diverse areas including aircraft maintenance, civil engineer, medical specialties, cyber, avionics, security forces, space and missile operations and maintenance and multiple intelligence disciplines.

The command includes training wings at Keesler; Sheppard, Lackland and Goodfellow Air Force Bases, Texas; a training group at Vandenberg AFB, California; an expeditionary training group at Keesler; and 92 field training units around the world.

As AETC's deputy director of technical training operations and later as the commander of the 37th Training Wing at Lackland, Patrick gained great respect for 2nd Air Force.

"I've always held the folks who worked at the numbered Air Force in the highest regard, and now I get to walk among them, see the way they operate and the care they take in carrying out the mission," he observed. "They're solid professionals who do a fantastic job. I want the men and women of 2nd Air Force to be excited about coming to work every day and to know how valued they are in making us the best and most powerful Air Force in the world."

Patrick has challenged the 2nd Air Force team to "understand what our role is and what our niche is. We want to be a 'value added' in whatever training environment we're in. We have to be relevant in what we do and make a difference. We must continually ask ourselves why we're here. If we're not relevant,they don't need us."

The general noted that 2nd Air Force's area of operations is in the current year of execution, receiving guidance from Air Staff on the types and numbers of Airmen that need to be trained in particular career fields and what the outcome is as far as production.

"If you think of it from a strategic, operational and tactical perspective, the wings are at the tactical level -- instructors working with students," Patrick explained. "The major commands and Air Staff giveus the long-range plans and then we work the current year of execution."

"Then our professionals put together the schedules and seat assignments, manage young people that have gotten into trouble academically by washing them back and giving them a chance to graduate and overseeing the discharge process," he continued. "We work heavily on curriculum and scheduling, ensuring that our instructors are trained to the level they need to be trained so they can be effective in the classroom."

The general's diverse assignments have given him valuable insights as 2nd Air Force's leader.

"Having been a wing commander twice and director at two different MAJCOMs, I've seen policies instituted, priorities determined and advocated for resources," he pointed out. "At the same time, I've done the 'people things,' whether it's recognizing top performers that are ready for the next level by promoting them, or correcting behavior through nonjudicial punishment or court martial, so I've had experience along the whole gamut."

When Patrick was the 37th Training Wing commander at Lackland, he was responsible for four training groups, along with installation support duties. He functioned more as a regional base support commander for 211 mission partners during his last assignment as the 502d Air Base Wing at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

"Coming to 2nd Air Force is completely different, and I'm learning something new every day," he remarked. "I'm responsible for four major wings, two groups and countless detachments, but it's all from an operational perspective of training."

The general said, "I've learned that command by influence is just as effective as command by presence. I've asked my wing commanders to use me strategically with my presence when
they need me. The wing commanders run their installations, but I'm here to help, support, provide resources and advocate, but also to standardize how we do things throughout the command."

Patrick said 2nd Air Force's mission is to create "mission-ready Airmen," but he uses that term to encompass a broad team that also includes sister services, officers, enlisted and civilian members.

"And we're doing this amid challenging financial circumstances," he stressed. "We're in multiple wars and we're trying to determine what our role is as a world leader to rebuild nations. We're looking at weapon systems that may be too costly, so we're starting to squeeze the purchases down a bit."

The nation's economic challenges are mandating significant changes across the Air Force and Department of Defense, according to Patrick.

"We're trying to figure out what the right force size is," he stated. "We're looking at our civilian end strength and how many people we need. In the next month or so, we can expect an announcement about how the wings, the MAJCOMs and the Air Staff are going to be reorganized."

"We can't lose sight of the fact that our role is to make sure our folks are ready to do their jobs," Patrick emphasized. "Our biggest challenge is to communicate to the work force what we know and tell them what to expect, and at the same time we're not going to have all the information -- it's still unfolding."

Second Air Force also oversees all Airmen throughout the joint expeditionary tasking/individual augmentee training pipeline at several Army training sites across the country. The general expects this responsibility to continue for the foreseeable future.

"Combat operations are winding down, but we still have Airmen going to Iraq to help assist the nation in building itself back," he said. "I see the same thing happening in Afghanistan."

Now that he's living at Keesler, the general is quick to point out the progress he's seen on the base since Hurricane Katrina struck the area six years ago. He was AETC's civil engineer at the time and arrived shortly after the storm to survey the destruction firsthand.

"Before Katrina hit, Air Force leaders put a team on standby ready to move in after the storm passed," he recalled. "Our RED ORSE teams had to chop their way through trees on I-10 to get through with generators and fuel. We received many offers for help, but billeting and food were a challenge."

"Senior leaders were concerned that there might be an extended training disruption, but Keesler was up and running very quickly," the general said. "I came the following spring to review the rebuilding effort and look at the new housing layout. The contract was awarded just before I left AETC. The homes are beautiful and now I get to live in one of them."

An avid runner, Patrick missed his 30-year-reunion at the Air Force Academy to run in the Air Force Marathon's half marathon race Sept. 17 at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. He ran four half marathons and a 10-mile race last year, but had to cut back on training for several months to allow a hamstring injury to heal. He finished the half marathon in 2:04, placing him in the top 30 percent of the 4,668 runners that completed the race.

"Training has been harder here in Mississippi -- the humidity is intense!" he admitted. "Five or six miles and I'm done."

The general's trip to Ohio was followed by a visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with Air Force and congressional leaders.