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News > From Cold War to Odyssey Dawn: 3AF vice commander reminisces about lessons learned, evolving USAF upon retirement
From Cold War to Odyssey Dawn: 3AF vice commander reminisces about lessons learned, evolving USAF upon retirement

Posted 6/6/2012   Updated 6/6/2012 Email story   Print story


by 1st Lt. Carolyn Glover
U.S. Air Forces in Europe - United Kingdom Public Affairs

6/6/2012 - RAF MILDENBALL, United Kingdom -- Maj. Gen. Mark R. Zamzow, Third Air Force vice commander and European Command's military representative to the United Kingdom, has played a role in many of the Air Force's most notable missions, learning valuable lessons along the way with regard to leadership, training and coalition relationships.

A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Zamzow served for just more than 34 years as a heavy aircraft pilot, staff officer and commander. His contribution to the Air Force has varied through what he considers three distinct eras: the Cold War state and fall of the Soviet Union; the Expeditionary Air Force; and the reaction to the War on Terrorism.

Flexibility and Change

Zamzow claims flexibility as the key to decades of operational success in a plethora of varying mission requirements.

"Our service has the culture, the training and the background to look ahead and react quickly ... to posture ahead before these changes even happen- and adjust to the new realities, whatever those may be," he said.

He does note, however, change was not easily embraced.

Zamzow entered the Air Force before e-mail and PowerPoint presentations began to influence operational productivity. He remembers an era where he conducted mission briefings as a new C-130 Hercules pilot with grease pencils and carbon paper. There was a lot of reluctance to even project computer images at the time.

"It was easy [to embrace technology] because technology came at such a fast pace; it was tough because people had to really focus and learn and apply," he explained. "Change is difficult, but overcome with the right leadership techniques."

Air Force evolution was not limited to technological innovation alone, but was manifested in expeditionary missions and coalition relationships as well.

Three Decades of Warfighting and Relationship Building

Zamzow's earliest experiences in a joint warfighting environment differed from his most recent ones. All services were in the process of learning how to combine capabilities and work together as a single military force.

Today, all service members expect to deploy in coalition and joint environments; the mindset is there from the start. In the 1980's, units deployed only as an Air Force, without as much regard for other services. Zamzow explained there was a significant learning curve to overcome.

The general witnessed this evolution throughout his participation in many significant large-scale operations, including Operation JOINT GUARD in 1997 as Director of Mobility Forces.

"Watching the overall team excel, applying very common tactics, techniques and procedures in pursuit of common goals was really a joy," Zamzow explained.

He continued to witness this joint environment evolve and thrive through various other operations, including Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM, Joint Task Forces Katrina and Rita, and more recently Operation ODYSSEY DAWN.

He highlights his 13 months with the Multi-National Force - Iraq in Baghdad, Iraq as an 'eye opener'. There he acted as Deputy Director, Strategic Effects.

"I learned that teaming among the military, U.S. embassy and Iraq government was a big pillar in the sucesss over there. The Iraqis knew we were genuine in wanting them to succeed," the general said. "Iraq is a standing nation now. It was truly rewarding to be a part of that."

Zamzow emphasizes jointness should never be taken from granted. Deploying service members should understand how joint and coalition pieces fit together before prior to deploying. "We want to make sure we deploy with our full capabilities. We want to assure we are knowledge fluent."

Zamzow's experience with joint and coalition forces has proved valuable in his most current positions in the U.K., where he where he plays multiple roles: as Third Air Force vice commander, European Command's military representative to Her Majesty's Government, and as U.S. Air Forces in Europe -U.K. director.

One of the general's most important responsibilities in this position is maintaining and fostering positive relationships with counterparts in the Royal Air Force and throughout the U.K.'s military enterprise.

"We are truly equal peers in the profession of arms. We know how to partner and work challenges with mission accomplishment, coalition partnering... even budgets," said the general. "This relationship was a joy to reinforce when I got in the desk."

Zamzow reiterates the opinions of U.S. and U.K. senior leadership alike: "The partnership is truly an essential relationship... we can't do it without each other."


He has been a commander for nearly six years, leading a squadron, a group, two wings, and currently U.S. Africa Command's air component. After observing Air Force operations on all levels, he assures one thing is clear:

"Everybody at all levels is working their tails off ... because that is what it takes," he said. "At this same time, there is lots of senior leader dialogue that makes everything turn."
Zamzow recalls the leadership principles of mentor and role model Brig. Gen. Mike McCarthy, Yokota Air Base wing commander, when the general was a squadron commander there.

"He was the kind of guy that led by example all the time, but he listened too," said Zamzow. "'Iron Mike' was not only brilliant at listening, but also in reacting. The wing would have followed him anywhere."

The general stresses the impact of the core values and their significance on Air Force operations. He believes they provide a critical foundation to how issues are handled.
"Our Air Force has it right with the three pillars with the foundation being integrity, service and excellence. If you just fall back on those three pillars, everything we do revolves around those principles."

Zamzow also calls attention to the Air Force's impeccable training system.
"A big part of success is helping people understand there are tools that make a solid foundation possible. It is based in our training system."

He claims this training prepares Airmen at all levels to become empowered when it comes to mission accomplishment. "Our Airmen do incredible things. Other countries can't match us because we have churned through that education and training foundation with the right vigor."

The general's advice: Airmen are trained superbly to perform the mission, and should be empowered to do so. "Empower your folks. Let the experts figure out the puzzles."

He believes the power of delegation is critical, and should be employed at all levels - from the most junior to the most senior leaders.

Zamzow believes these principles should be coupled with a certain degree of transparency.

"Remember senior leaders are just like you... we do wear our heart more on our sleeves than our predecessors did. We are very readable," he explains. "Be yourself. Show people what you are about. Wear your heart on your sleeve, and they will follow you because they know what you stand for."

Zamzow is set to retire in June with full faith in the future of his Air Force, declaring it one of the world's greatest institutions.

"We can go toe-to-toe with some of the premier corporations in America and say we are just as good, if not better than most. This is a great credit for what we stand stand for. My wife Fran, our three sons and I have truly been pleased to be part of the Air Force."

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