AFMC Command News

From rookie pilot to servant leader: 33-year Air Force career ends on high note

  • Published
  • By Michele Donaldson
  • Air Force Materiel Command

As a military child, Lt. Gen. Carl E. Schaefer was surrounded by aircraft his entire young life, and his biggest ambition was just to fly. Attending the U.S. Air Force Academy and commissioning into the Air Force were the first steps in achieving that dream.

In his 33 years serving in the Air Force, Schaefer did much more than just fly. He ends his military career this week as Deputy Commander, Air Force Materiel Command. 

“My desire has been to be a servant leader, to be humble in these jobs, and to make sure that I am approachable,” said Schaefer. “So, post Air Force, I don’t see my mindset changing. The desire is still to take care of people and treat them with value.”

 Schaefer was commissioned in 1990 as a distinguished graduate from the Air Force Academy and subsequently served in a variety of flying and staff assignments.

“I never actually saw the Air Force as a job. I loved flying and it never felt like ‘work’,” said Schaefer. “I came in to achieve my dream of flying and stayed in for the people.”

He enjoyed an early assignment at Royal Air Force Lakenheath as a captain flying the F-15E, but he noted that his squadron commander of over 600 Airmen rarely smiled and did not look like he was having fun.  This leadership example influenced Schaefer’s decision to leave operational flying and attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School.

“Everyone is watching how you react and interact, how much you smile, how proficient you are…and that can impact a generation of leaders,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer graduated from TPS and became a command pilot, with more than 3,100 flying hours in more than 40 aircraft types. He has flown combat missions in support of operations Deny Flight and Allied Force.

His supervisors in the test community changed his mind about leadership and rejuvenated his desire to stay in the Air Force and to lead.

Schaefer’s only goal was to make lieutenant colonel and become a squadron commander. He not only achieved that goal, but he also commanded at the squadron, group and wing levels, including serving as commander at the 412th Test Wing, Edwards AFB, California.

“I expected to retire as a lieutenant colonel, so I’ve been in my retirement job since then,” said Schaefer. “Fortunately, I had the honor to lead beyond Squadron Command.”

Schaefer says he got the best advice in his career while serving as a major at the Pentagon from his boss, then Maj. Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. Welsh, who went on to become the 20th Air Force Chief of Staff, took the time to individually talk to each major in his organization to encourage them to make their families a priority.

Welsh encouraged attending family medical appointments and making children’s sporting events, whenever possible. The Air Force demands a lot from Airmen, he said to those he mentored, and there would be times when every Air Force member would be away for important occasions. 


“If you make your family a priority, you end up getting a lot of grace when the Air Force requires you to be away,” said Schaefer. “Take time to care for family, so you run out of Air Force before you run out of family.”

He is especially grateful to his family and to his wife, Pauline.

 “She sacrificed a lot in the last 32 years of marriage and poured herself into taking care of Airmen and families,” said Schaefer. “I cannot thank Pauline and all military spouses enough for all they do so we can serve.” 

As deputy commander, Schaefer was responsible for the evolution of aerospace systems from conceptual phase through production and introduction into the operating inventory. He directed policy and procedures affecting AFMC aircraft logistics, product acquisition and sustainment, technology research and development, and system test and evaluation to meet known and anticipated operational requirements.

His focus as deputy commander, however, was taking care of Airmen.

“I feel my greatest accomplish though was the opportunity to build leaders that will come and take my place,” said Schaefer. “Over my career I’ve been able to mentor a lot of junior officers and enlisted members to be the future leaders of our Air Force.”

As for challenges, Schaefer says it’s always about money and communication. Stable funding is critical for programs, weapons system sustainment, installation and mission and support, so clearly communicating our current and future Air Force needs are crucial, especially with Congress.

“We have the most lethal Air Force on the planet, just as we did in the 90s, because of the quality of our people, the quality of our training and the quality of our weapons systems,” said Schaefer. “But, we need to ensure our Airmen know the threat and know what part they play in the mission to counter that threat.”

His advice to those considering joining the Air Force is simple.

“Come in -- make it a career. The Air Force is big enough for your dreams,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer and his family have not yet made definite plans, but they intend to take some time off to enjoy their young grandchildren and see what’s next. As he considered his last few weeks wearing the uniform, he talked about how he felt about serving.

“I feel nothing but gratitude. It’s been the honor of my life, truly, to serve our nation and be part of the Air Force,” said Schaefer. “It’s been an honor to be deputy commander in AFMC for the last five years. Thank you to Team AFMC and all who continue to serve and sacrifice for our Nation.”

View Schaefer's final thoughts on service and retirement at:

VIDEO | 04:32 | Lt. Gen. Carl E. Schaefer Retirement Thoughts