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Air Force General in Charge of Special Operations Command Nominated to Head Service Academy

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President Joe Biden has nominated the head of Air Force Special Operations Command to become the next superintendent of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind’s nomination from the White House came last week, less than 18 months into his role leading the service’s air commandos, and the Senate is now tasked with confirming him. In a press release Monday, the three-star general — who graduated from the academy in 1991 — said he is honored by the president’s selection.

“I am humbled by the nomination to be the 22nd superintendent of our academy,” Bauernfeind said in the release. “The opportunity to develop warfighters, leaders of character and quality, and critical thinkers for our Air Force and Space Force is an honor.”

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Bauernfeind took over Air Force Special Operations Command, or AFSOC, in December 2022. During his short tenure, the command has faced a wide range of situations, including ongoing maintenance issues with the CV-22 Osprey; the recovery of eight air commandos who were killed in a crash off the coast of Japan last year; and most recently, the death of Senior Airman Roger Fortson at the hands of police on May 3.

Bauernfeind’s nomination came the same week that he spoke at Fortson’s funeral and as he works to support both the airman’s family and his fellow special operations airmen.

In his 32-year career, Bauernfeind has logged more than 3,500 hours in the MC-130E, MC-130H and MQ-9 aircraft, according to his service biography.

Prior roles he’s held include serving as the commanding general of Special Operations Command Korea; chief of staff at U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida; and vice commander of U.S. Special Operations Command in Washington, D.C.

While Bauernfeind’s tenure at AFSOC has been less than the typical two years, it’s not uncommon for the Air Force to move around its limited number of three-star generals into positions only they can fill, such as heading major commands or superintendent roles, Katherine Kuzminski, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank, told Military.com.

But Kuzminski added that the appointment of an AFSOC commander to be the Air Force Academy’s superintendent is notable.

“You frequently see that a pilot ends up leading these organizations, which is true in his case as well,” Kuzminski told Military.com on Monday. “I would also imagine that over the course of his career, in the last 20 years, there’s been a very high demand for his sets of skills.”

In the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. military has relied more heavily on special operators for missions.

Now, the U.S. military overall is pivoting to focus on “great power competition” — a term used to describe more defense spending and changes focused on rising threats, including China in the Pacific region.

In a series of sweeping changes announced earlier this year, Air Force officials are reorganizing and restrategizing with China in mind. One such change includes plans to “upgrade and advance the cadet experience” for ROTC and Air Force Academy students to “lead in a complex environment,” Military.com previously reported.

“[People’s Republic of China President] Xi Jinping has told his military to be ready to take Taiwan by force by 2027, even if the U.S. intervenes,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in February. “Freshmen at both the Air Force Academy and those entering ROTC units will be commissioned in 2027.”

Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the current superintendent at the Air Force Academy, has served in that role since September 2020, according to his service biography. The outgoing officer, who is set to retire June 1, said the school is in good hands with the AFSOC commander.

Clark highlighted Bauernfeind’s experience when it comes to the service’s new focus on China.

“Leading the academy has been an amazing experience, and I know that our academy is in great hands with Lt. Gen. Bauernfeind,” Clark said in a press release Monday. “[His] operational experience will be a key factor as the academy moves forward in the development of leaders of character ready for great power competition.”

Related: In Major Overhaul, Air Force and Space Force Will Roll Out New Ranks, Training, Structure to Compete with China

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