Pentagon to swap out nuclear boss, Europe commander and more

·4 min read

The summer season of military musical chairs is underway as several high-ranking Air Force officers take new jobs or head into retirement.

Gen. Anthony Cotton, who manages the Air Force’s nuclear weapons and bombers as commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, was nominated June 7 to lead the Pentagon’s nuclear enterprise at U.S. Strategic Command.

Cotton is a career nuclear missileer and oversaw the intercontinental ballistic missile force at 20th Air Force before becoming Global Strike’s deputy commander in October 2019. He rose to the command’s top job in August amid efforts to modernize the service’s nuclear arsenal, build a new stealth bomber and chart out the retirement of two other bombers.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would become the second Black service member to run STRATCOM and the second person of color among the current slate of combatant commanders. He will replace Adm. Charles Richard, who took the job in November 2019.

The Air Force has not announced who is next in line to replace Cotton at Global Strike.

He is one of two recent picks to lead a combatant command, which split up responsibility for daily operations in regions around the world as well as for specialized missions like cyber and space warfare.

The other, Army Lt. Gen. Bryan Fenton, was tapped to lead U.S. Special Operations Command and for a promotion to four-star general, the Pentagon announced Monday. He is now at the helm of Joint Special Operations Command.

Some defense watchers had speculated Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, the three-star in charge of Air Force Special Operations Command, would take over the top special ops job after hitting the three-year mark at AFSOC this month — around when stints in the role typically end.

The Pentagon on June 8 said Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, SOCOM’s current No. 2, is on deck to lead AFSOC, though the Air Force has not revealed what’s next for Slife.

AFSOC has been embroiled in allegations of unfairly playing favorites with an officer who could become the first female airman to break into the elite special tactics field. The Air Force inspector general cleared the command of wrongdoing in an investigation report released June 7.

Asked about his future plans in March, the special ops pilot said: “I’m anxious to find out whether I’m going to become a shepherd on my farm or whether I’m going to another job.”

Bauernfeind commissioned into the Air Force in 1991 upon graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. He piloted the MC-130 special operations airlift and commanded two special operations wings. He has also held the No. 2 job at SOCOM since August 2020.

And amid Europe’s most tenuous security situation in decades, Gen. Tod Wolters will retire as U.S. European Command boss and NATO’s supreme allied commander. Wolters commissioned into the Air Force in 1982. Another fighter pilot who has hopscotched into positions around the world, he took over at EUCOM in May 2019.

His departure comes as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues into its fourth month, spurring a massive effort to arm Ukrainian troops as well as new requests from countries to join NATO.

Gen. Christopher Cavoli, head of U.S. Army Europe and Africa, was nominated to replace Wolters.

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Other resume updates include:

  • Maj. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich will take over at Air Forces Central Command’s headquarters in South Carolina. The career fighter pilot has served as U.S. Central Command’s operations director since June 2020.

  • Lt. Gen. James Hecker is slated to leave Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, to assume command of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. He joined the university as president in November 2019.

  • Lt. Gen. Brad Webb is retiring as commander of Air Education and Training Command after 38 years of military service. He handed the reins to Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, formerly the No. 2 officer at Air Mobility Command and a career airlift pilot.

  • Gen. Arnold Bunch retired Monday after three years as Air Force Materiel Command’s top officer and almost 40 years in the service. Gen. Duke Richardson, the former military deputy for acquisition at Air Force headquarters, took over the post.