HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
What started out as a childhood interest in the military developed into a 44-year career for one Air Commando.
Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, Principal Deputy Director, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, Office of the Secretary of Defense and former commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, retired from the Air Force June 28 in a ceremony here at the Soundside Club.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein officiated Heithold’s ceremony, reflecting on the time he knew Heithold.
“I’ve come to believe over the years that there’s one real lasting legacy that we leave behind,” said Goldfein. “What lasts is the investment we make in people; and those that we raise to replace us. Throughout his career, Brad has absolutely epitomized this philosophy. I appreciate the opportunity to represent, literally, thousands of warriors and their families and lives you have touched over the years.”
Before Heithold even joined the Air Force, he expressed a curiosity for military matters. As a child in the 1960s, he watched television programs about space and military operations. At the height of the Apollo space program and an old television show called 12 O’Clock High, Heithold’s interest in the military grew.
“I used to build all the Apollo rockets,” said Heithold. “I took sugar cubes and painted them black and white and built the whole structure. I also built every airplane model that was ever designed. I would put them together and hang them from the ceiling with fishing string. It was just a natural thing for me.”
When Heithold turned 18, he was ready to enlist into the Air Force.
“I went to the recruiter when I was 17 and I did the delayed enlistment program in May of 1974,” said Heithold. “I actually had to have my mother sign my initial paperwork and then when I turned 18, I could enlist in the Air Force, just after high school.”
Since that enlistment in 1974, Heithold went on to become one of the Air Force’s longest serving general officers.
“There’s a pride that goes along with serving 44 years,” Heithold commented. “Knowing that you stuck with it and did what your service asked you to do: continue to serve in key leadership positions throughout my career. It was never about how long I could serve. Each assignment became more exciting, more challenging, more leadership intensive, and more responsibility laden. Pretty soon, you look back and you’ve done 44 years and go, ‘whoa, where’d that go?’ ”
Over the 44 years, Heithold cited one person as being a constant during the journey-his wife, Maggie.
“I first met Maggie when I was just a two-striper at Holloman Air Force Base,” said Heithold. “She came to visit one of the girls in my shop, and we’ve been together since then. She’s been with me the entire journey.”
Throughout this journey, Heithold spent the majority of his time at Hurlburt Field or somehow affiliated with AFSOC. He cited extraordinary leadership as his motivation for continuing to serve.
“I was motivated by the leadership that was displayed to me by the great folks at AFSOC,” said Heithold. “I worked for every AFSOC commander. I was AFSOC commander number 10. I had worked for nine absolutely fabulous leaders in AFSOC. It was their incredible servant style and sacrifice and leadership that encouraged me to keep serving.”
As Heithold served, he witnessed the stand up of AFSOC from the 23rd Air Force, and his fondest memory in the Air Force comes from the command.
“Receiving the Order of the Sword from AFSOC was my fondest memory,” said Heithold. “It was awesome because you know it’s not everyone (that receives it), and you know that the chiefs all have to say yes to the award. It’s rewarding because it’s the Airmen that present it to you. In the whole ceremony, it’s all enlisted Airmen.”
The Order of the Sword is the top award an officer can receive from enlisted Airmen.
While Heithold reflected back on the Order of the Sword ceremony, he remembered his time as an enlisted Airman. His first duty station was Holloman Air Force Base and he was a Senior Airman when he began the commissioning process. Officers who were prior enlisted are referred to as mustangs.
“When you’re a mustang, you’ve walked a few miles in enlisted boots,” said Heithold. “There’s a little bit of understanding of what basic military training is all about, understanding the culture of the enlisted corps, and how respectful we are of non-commissioned officers. I couldn’t tell you who my squadron commander was when I was a two striper, but I can tell you who my master sergeant was. When you then become an officer, you understand how thankful we should be for the enlisted corps we have, and it gives you a great appreciation for them.”
As Heithold begins retirement, he looks forward to spending time with family, being an advisor to the industry complex, consulting on leadership dynamics and continuing to inspire Airmen.
“Whatever it is you’re being asked to do; do the very best, be the very best,” said Heithold. “I don’t care what it is you’re being asked to do. If you’re the fry cook in the chow hall, you be the best. If you’re the pilot on an AC-130, be the best. You strive to be the best at whatever you’re asked to do in the Air Force and guess what? Things turn out really well for you. Contribute all you’ve got, be the best at whatever we ask you to do.”
Goldfein further emphasized the impact of Heithold’s legacy.
“Brad and Maggie, the audience here is a small tribute to the impact you’ve had on all whom you’ve crossed paths with in your 44 years,” said Goldfein. “It’s my honor and privilege on behalf of a grateful nation and the Airmen assembled here, to inform you that you have fulfilled your obligation. The Air Force is better today because of your pioneering efforts and your servant leadership. Dawn and I along with the rest of your Air Force family, wish you and Maggie clear skies and fair winds as you start your next chapter together.”