HomeNewsArticle Display

Echoes of 1999 rescue ring loud and clear for Goldfein, providing lessons and vision for today

20th Anniversary of Operation Allied Force

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein offers remarks May 8 during a Pentagon ceremony honoring the 20th anniversary of Operation Allied Force. The ceremony featured comments by Kosovo’s ambassador to the United States, Vlora Citaku, and the unveiling of a display commemorating the 78-day air campaign. The NATO-led effort forced Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s capitulation and the end of an ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. (U.S. Air Force photo by Adrian Cadiz)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) --

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein has a direct answer when asked what echoes to this day, what continues to influence his thinking and actions even now, 20 years after he found himself on the ground in hostile surroundings, his F-16 in the distance smoldering and destroyed.

“Where it echoes most for me is trying to lead with character,” Goldfein said May 7. “When I talk to young commanders I tell them, ‘As an officer, we never know when some young airman will risk everything to save our lives; to pull us out of bad-guy land, to pull us out of a burning vehicle. They risk everything they hold dear and their families hold dear to save us.’

“And the question at that moment is, am I worthy of their risk?”

For Goldfein, of course, the question and his answer are both meaningful and literal. It is especially potent this month, which marks the 20th anniversary of his shoot down and rescue during a mission over Serbia.

The facts of that incident are well known. Goldfein was a squadron commander for the May 2, 1999 mission to find and destroy anti-aircraft batteries. The mission was part of Operation Allied Force, which was NATO’s response to Serbian attacks on Kosovar Albanians that had risen to an ethnic cleansing. The 78-day air campaign ultimately convinced Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate.

Getting to that point, however, was difficult and dangerous. Air power made the difference.
While officially a NATO campaign with many participants and facets, the U.S. Air Force played a prominent role, flying 30,018 sorties and striking 421 fixed targets.

It was a defining moment for the Air Force in several ways. It validated the air expeditionary force concept; it was the first time a B-2 stealth bomber was used in combat and the first significant use of what today are referred to as drone aircraft.

And for Goldfein, it was a life-shaping event that forced him to eject into a moonlit night, test his training and forge a unique command outlook.

It triggered a tight bond with pararescuemen Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hardy, Senior Airman Ron Ellis and Staff Sgt. Andy Kubik, a combat controller. All three bolted from a MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and ran toward Goldfein as he emerged from a row of trees and brought him home safely, eluding vigorous gunfire on the way out.

For Goldfein, the memory and the lessons from that night endure.

He remembers how the training he received 20 years before that night on the proper way to safely eject, parachute to earth, and evade capture, returned clearly and instantly when needed.

“What I found that was amazing in looking back was how little I had to recall,” he said, reciting the stern admonitions of his instructors for a successful “parachute landing fall” – “knees together, don’t look down!, roll like a football!”

There also was something more profound that only someone who’s been shot down and rescued can fully understand.

“I wear these stars every day for somebody else,” Goldfein said. “I wear them for some young Airmen who risked everything and did a great job that night. So every day you get to serve is a day to pay it forward.”

It also forces him to return to the question, am I worth it?

“The answer is, god, I hope so,” he said.

Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Retired Chief Master Sgt. Michael Cuevas. joined the #AirForce in 1996 and served as an RF… https://t.co/6MZCrUpPH7
Twitter
#DYK: @AFW2 Ambassador events bring a REALITY to RESILIENCY and allow our #warriors to share their stories with the… https://t.co/nLWPMlAs58
Twitter
@usairforce Ambassadors with the @AFW2 program spoke to members of 18th Air Force this morning about the importanc… https://t.co/XGTxbodFj6
Twitter
.@usairforce leaders, show your fellow #Wingmen they’re safe in your care. Through a supportive culture, encourage… https://t.co/G2Flq2astz
Twitter
Today was #ResiliencyDay at the North Central Warrior Care Event! Warriors and their #caregivers had the opportunit… https://t.co/UHI0x1FxYb
Twitter
RT @RealAFOSI: Thank you @AFW2 for taking care of our airmen in their time of need! We are proud of retired Master Sgt. Boccher for all th…
Twitter
"So I put all of my trust and my faith into this program and I encourage you all to do the same!" 🙌🏻❤️ Master Sgt.… https://t.co/uexnG2pWjm
Twitter
The North Central Warrior Care Event officially kicked off last night! 🙌🏻 #Warriors and their caregivers met with t… https://t.co/4hZBk5g5Dt
Twitter
We asked #TeamScott for help and they sure delivered! 🙌🏻 Over 150 volunteers showed up at Scott Air Force Base toda… https://t.co/qjk2RFRIRK
Twitter
#DYK: The 375th AMW at @ScottAFB maintains responsibility for the 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Training Squadron at… https://t.co/QkbX0hoGBF
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Staff Sgt. Samantha Woods entered the #AirForce in April 2013. A 2016 rocket attack in… https://t.co/WW75xZoIe1
Twitter
Today is National #PurpleHeart Day. Initially, enrollment in #AFW2 was focused on those service men and women who w… https://t.co/272ETISXaN
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday retired Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Carentz joined the #AirForce in 1994 as a cardiopulmonary… https://t.co/FfmkJBon5V
Twitter
@GenDaveGoldfein⁩ sent out guidance last week for all units to take a day to talk about #resiliency and combatting… https://t.co/ZKbDRMYdwT
Twitter
Learn more about resiliency here https://t.co/UGTj9h6PWf
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Senior Airman Jessica Thelen joined the #AirForce in 2016 working in intelligence. She is a… https://t.co/aWmWD9h75p
Twitter
Our #AFW2 Ambassadors are paving the way for a better understanding on how the program helps wounded, ill and injur… https://t.co/nKxYRRAzs0
Twitter
Great things happening ⁦@RamsteinAirBase⁩ with #AFW2. Follow the action on FB. https://t.co/OD5jeAHq88
Twitter
Retired Capt. Rob Hufford broke #powerlifting records at the 2019 Warrior Games and knows a little about the healin… https://t.co/12XxV06BzS
Twitter
5,150
Follow Us