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Kirklands reflect on career journey

  • Published
  • By Amy Schiess
  • Air Force Sustainment Center Public Affairs

As a self-described Art of the Possible zealot, Air Force Sustainment Center Commander Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland is adept at recognizing potential and seeing efficiencies that could be … but aren’t.

It is the trademark trait that many people will mention when asked about the general as he approaches retirement and the AFSC change of command Aug. 17.

“He is especially good at building partnerships and teams within that will most benefit the organization,” said Dennis D’Angelo, AFSC executive director. “And he always works to make sure the leaders in the field have tools, not rules, to do the job. If he gave you a job, he also gave you the freedom and capability to accomplish it.”

Whether learned or intuitive, teambuilding and process improvement are leadership skills that have marked most of Kirkland’s almost 34 years in the Air Force.

“Everyone knows more about their job than I do,” said Kirkland. “Nothing gets done with one organization. The key to success is building those connections and creating those networks so others can do their job effectively. “

More than once, the Air Force has assigned Kirkland to an organization whose foundation needed some fortification. In late 2007, he became a group commander at Minot AFB, North Dakota, after an incident involving unauthorized transfer of nuclear weapons revealed vulnerabilities within the Air Force’s strategic deterrence.

Kirkland shares credit with many involved in establishing a renewed focus and related actions to ensure the security of the nuclear enterprise, as he often does in regards to the successes of AFSC.

“I am consistently amazed at the innovation of the AFSC team,” Kirkland said. As the only AFSC commander who has also been an air base wing commander and an air logistics complex commander previously, he has unique insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by leading at each level.

“Our air base wings, supply chain wings, complexes, and staff offices - every single piece of our sustainment enterprise understands the critical role they play in our national defense and executes it with precision,” Kirkland said.

The unexpected challenge of providing aircraft and engine sustainment during COVID-19 prompted an integrated response from the center’s many units.

AFSC Director of Logistics Jeff Sick said, “[General Kirkland’s] leadership brought us through the pandemic, kept the production machines going, the supply chain responding, and all the while our people informed, supported and included in every aspect along the way.”

Kirkland maintains “My job as a leader is to remove constraints, to find resources, and to make it easier for others to do their job. I organize my commander priorities around that.”

At the same time, Judy Kirkland, the general’s wife, organized her efforts around building on-base community and mentoring other spouses – a future she did not envision for herself in earlier years.

“I had no reference for military life,” she said. “I thought I would live in Florida my whole life. The treat has been getting to travel and live in different places like Oklahoma, North Dakota and Alaska and becoming part of those communities.”

As her husband moved up through the ranks, she embraced opportunities to strengthen the spouse network. “The journey of working with spouses has been fulfilling,” she said. “Becoming a more senior spouse has allowed me to step into a role of mentoring others.”

There is one common thread she encounters with spouses who are struggling. “Often, people who are unhappy have not become involved in anything,” she said. “You must get involved in the community.”

Volunteering at Base Thrift Shops has been Judy Kirkland’s community service of choice for years. “It is rewarding,” she said. “[The Tinker Thrift Shop] has raised $77,000 this year that will be going to scholarships and organizations like Wounded Warriors.”

The Kirklands are ending their Air Force tour in Oklahoma and plan to stay in the area for now and “embrace putting down deeper roots where we live, work and play. Local communities are a huge part of the support system that makes us tick.”

Both Lt. Gen. and Mrs. Kirkland say they are looking forward to different challenges and opportunities that retirement will provide and offer appreciation for the selfless mentors and patriotic workforce that paved the way for their success.

“If I could shake the hand of all 40,000 Airmen within AFSC, I would do so,” the general said. “As a logistics and maintenance officer, this is the seminal job of my career. Being the center commander has been a welcome challenge and getting to finish here has been an honor.”