PACAF’s next commander will be one of the Air Force’s most experienced fighter pilots

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The Air Force said on Thursday that Lt. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach has been nominated to receive his fourth star and be the next commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Wilsbach, who is now commander of the 7th Air Forces and deputy commander for U.S. Forces Korea, would succeed Gen. CQ Brown, who has been nominated to be the Air Force’s next chief of staff.

If confirmed by the Senate, Wilsbach will command about 46,000 airmen, mainly in Japan, South Korea, Hawaii and Guam. He would be the air component commander for U.S. Pacific Command in one of the most complex regions in the world and have to contend with China’s increasing assertiveness in areas such as the South China Sea and North Korea’s unpredictable belligerence.

Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach speaks with Staff Sgt. Christopher Hoppler, 8th Civil Engineer Squadron craftsman, during a base visit at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Nov. 7, 2019. Wilsbach has been nominated to receive his fourth star and be the next commander of Pacific Air Forces. (Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez/Air Force)

The responsibilities of PACAF, headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, include the continuous bomber presence mission, in which a rotating stable of B-1B Lancer, B-52 Stratofortress, and B-2 Spirit bombers are meant to reassure U.S. allies in the Pacific and deter potential adversaries such as China and North Korea.

PACAF bases include Andersen Air Force Base in Guam; Kadena, Misawa and Yokota air bases in Japan; and Kunsan and Osan air bases in South Korea.

Wilsbach is a highly experienced and decorated command pilot with more than 5,000 hours primarily flying the F-15, F-22 and MC-12, as well as the F-16C. He has flown 71 combat missions in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as Iraq as part of operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, helping maintain the no-fly zones there in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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His decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, and the Bronze Star.

He was commissioned in 1985 as a distinguished graduate of the University of Florida’s ROTC program, and earned his pilot’s wings the following year at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas.

Wilsbach previously served as commander of the 11th Air Force and U.S. Northern Command’s Alaskan Command. He has also been the director of operations at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base and commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base in Japan, among other assignments.

About

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.

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