JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Maj. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart took command of the Nineteenth Air Force from Maj. Gen. Craig Wills during a change of command ceremony at Hanger 41 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Aug 19.
Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, commander of Air Education and Training Command, presided over the ceremony, thanking the men and women of the Nineteenth Air Force and describing the significant impact the command has on the AETC mission. He outlined the vast footprint of the Nineteenth Air Force, which is the command home to 32,000 Airmen spanning over 17 wings and executes approximately 500,000 flying hours a year, just shy of 50 percent of the United States Air Force's total flying hours.
“First and foremost to the men and women of the Nineteenth Air Force. We cannot say enough to thank you for your incredible contributions to AETC’s mission, the Air Force and our great nation," Robinson said. "In terms of the fleet alone, by all accounts, Nineteenth Air Force would be equal to the fifth largest air force by fleet size in the world. That is significant and you make it look easy, but it is not.”
Robinson spoke in detail about Wills’ contributions to include implementing the first significant changes in pilot training in three decades that proved to be an enterprise-ready solution all while overcoming the pandemic. He also spoke of Wills’ efforts to improve rated diversity championing change in policy.
In transitioning to Stewart, Robinson shared the vast leadership roles that Stewart commanded throughout his career. With a long legacy of service, Stewart is the fifth generation to serve within his family.
Robinson shared how Gen. Tod Wolters, U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, described Stewart as the most innovative general officer that he’d seen in his entire career.
“We need that as we continue to accelerate and change at AETC,” Robinson said. "Your innovative spirit and experience will be crucial to the ongoing evolution of the 19th Air Force. It will cultivate our greatest strength and deliver airpower."
During his remarks, Stewart shared how he became the aide de camp for the Nineteenth Air Force commander from 1999 to 2000.
As a young captain, he was asked by his commander to apply for the aide de camp position. He wasn’t interested and agreed to meet, but had a list of reasons why he did not want the job. Upon meeting with the general, he was immediately told he was hired.
“The point of that is, left to my own devices and my own decisions, I would just be retired Lt. Col. Phil Stewart, with a long career in flying, but it’s mentors who help make Airmen,” Stewart said. “It’s people much wiser, much smarter who took time out of their day to look at a young kid and say, hey maybe one day you might be here.
“I recognize job one in this command is growing Airmen. Growing great men and women who will one day stand on this stage, who will one day be sitting in that chair on stage” Stewart said. "There’s no better command than AETC for that."
Prior to taking command, Stewart was the Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategic Employment, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Belgium. In this capacity, he managed all operations, missions and activities for Allied Command Operations.
Stewart was commissioned in 1992 through ROTC after graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned three master’s degrees in military studies, operational planning, and strategic studies. He is also a command pilot with more than 2,600 hours of flying time.
During Wills’ remarks, he took the time to thank many who supported him during his time as commander to include the Nineteenth Air Force Staff and the instructors within the Nineteenth Air Force.
Traditionally a final salute is rendered to the outgoing commander, however, Wills offered a symbol of his gratitude and respect and rendered a final salute to the Nineteenth Air Force.
“Thank you to the men and women of the Nineteenth Air Force it’s been an honor to serve with you. Thank you for what you do for America,” Wills said.
Wills retires in December 2022 and plans to stay in the San Antonio area.