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Europe & Africa: The fascinating challenge

Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, speaks during a press conference on the flightline at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, April 25, 2016. The general answered reporters' questions about the U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptor training deployment in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. The aircraft will conduct air training with other Europe-based aircraft and forward deploy from RAF Lakenheath, England, to maximize training opportunities while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to NATO allies and the security of Europe. The Raptors are deployed from the 95th Fighter Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.(U.S. Air Force graphic by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane/Released)

Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, speaks during a press conference on the flightline at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, April 25, 2016. The general answered reporters' questions about the U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptor training deployment in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. The aircraft will conduct air training with other Europe-based aircraft and forward deploy from RAF Lakenheath, England, to maximize training opportunities while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to NATO allies and the security of Europe. The Raptors are deployed from the 95th Fighter Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.(U.S. Air Force graphic by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane/Released)

Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander meets Airmen at Ramstein Air Base, Germany Aug. 6, 2015. Ray visited the 435th AGOW and 435th Air Expeditionary Wing to view what they brought to the European and African theaters of operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Armando A. Schwier-Morales)

Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander meets Airmen at Ramstein Air Base, Germany Aug. 6, 2015. Ray visited the 435th AGOW and 435th Air Expeditionary Wing to view what they brought to the European and African theaters of operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Armando A. Schwier-Morales)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, will relinquish command to Lt. Gen. Richard Clark on Oct. 21.

During his 15 months here, Ray experienced one of the most turbulent times in Europe.

“It is a fascinating challenge,” Ray said. “On one end you are dealing with counterterrorism and building partnership capacity, and on the other end you are preparing for a very difficult high-end conflict.”

Ray stepped into the position as the operations tempo was already elevated, and that tempo would only continue to climb.

“This has been a time of significant transition with a lot of very interesting world events – between counterterrorism activity in Libya and Syria and dealing with a resurgent Russia,” Ray said. “We also dealt with the transition of Incirlik [Air Base] from what was a very quiet, peaceful place to a power projection platform.”

Ray said the events that will stand out of the most from his time here were all things Turkey.

“Who knew what we were going to be dealing with there?” Ray said. “We had great cooperation from [Air Forces Central Command] and [U.S. Central Command]. To be involved with all of that and support them in their fight to go make things happen – I can’t think of a more important place to be.”

The general was quick to explain that all of the work that went into helping the US be successful was not accomplished solely by his 3rd Air Force team.

“What I have appreciated here is the whole team,” Ray said. “Our team in the Third, which includes all the wings, is fantastic, but it’s nothing without the 603rd Air Operations Center and USAFE-AFAFRICA staff working as one integrated team.”

With nearly 35,000 total force Airmen assigned under his command, Ray explained that the key to Airpower is not planes, but people.
“American Airmen and American Airpower are unique,” Ray said. “They are national treasures. The role Airpower played in this theater has been phenomenal, and as long as the team here recognizes their role and what they add, we will be successful as we go forward.”

He explained success in the European and African areas of responsibility can only be achieved through integration and training with allies and partners.

“When you work with allies, it’s about the ability to stay engaged and to keep going down a path of continuous improvement, integration and capacity building,” Ray said. “You’re never really done with it. You are constantly working at that, it’s all about relationships.”

While continuous training with allies has been a main focus for Ray, he said that we also all have to take time to offer mentorship to Airmen.
“The message I would give you is to ‘play your role’,” Ray said. “You may not be the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, but you might be the one who mentors a future one of those. It’s not so much that you advance to high rank, but that you make a difference in someone’s life or their career by something you say or do to leave a positive mark on that individual.”

Ray believes the Airmen in the Air Force today are the best in the business due to that mentorship.

“We are the Michael Jordan of this business,” Ray said. “You never saw him complain about the refs or his team. All he did was play his heart out, and in the process everyone on his team played better. What everyone in this business needs to understand is it’s not about what they have and don’t have. It’s about doing the absolute best with what they have and being honest about what they can and can’t do. Because even on his worst day, Michael Jordan was incredible… and so are our Airmen!”

Ray will close out his tour here during a change of command ceremony, but his time in Europe is not up. He was named as the U.S. European Command deputy commander and will continue to serve the joint force from Stuttgart, Germany.

Although Ray has served in the Air Force for 31 years he believes that his time here was ‘very, very special’.

“I will hold this assignment as one of my most prized professional memories,” Ray concluded.