New AFSOC Commander, Academy Superintendent, Top Planner All Nominated

Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Tony D. Bauernfeind has been nominated to take over as superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and his current director of operations Brig. Gen. Michael E. Conley is set to jump two ranks and succeed him at AFSOC, part of a raft of general officer nominations the Pentagon announced May 17.

In addition to Bauernfeind and Conley, the Defense Department also announced the nominations of three other Air Force generals to receive a third-star and assume new positions:

  • Maj. Gen. David H. Tabor has been nominated to become deputy chief of staff for plans and programs
  • Maj. Gen. Thomas K. Hensley has been nominated lead to lead the 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber)
  • Maj. Gen. John J. DeGoes has been nominated to become the Air Force Surgeon General

The departure of current Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark has been long-planned. Clark, who has led USAFA in Colorado Springs, Colo., since 2020, was named the next executive director of the College Football Playoff in November 2023 and plans to start in the 2024 fall season. He announced his intention to retire to take on the high-profile civilian job.

Bauernfeind, a command pilot with experience on nearly a dozen different aircraft types, has led AFSOC since December 2022, after spending two years as the vice commander at U.S. Special Operations Command.

In recent months, Bauernfeind has had to lead the Air Force special operators community through two tragedies. In November 2023, an AFSOC CV-22 Osprey crashed off the coast of southern Japan, killing all eight Airmen on board. The entire Osprey fleet across the military was grounded for three months and is still operating with restrictions on how the aircraft is flown.

Then earlier this month, Senior Airman Roger Fortson, a 23-year-old special missions aviator on AC-130s, was shot six times and killed in the doorway of his apartment in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., by an Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputy. Fortson, who was Black, was holding a legally owned handgun by his side when he was shot after opening the door.

Bauernfeind has met leaders from Hurlburt Field, local pastors and community groups, the NAACP, and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and pledged to hold a town hall.

Though under vastly different circumstances, those incidents reverberated across the Air Force, with many Airmen across the service sharing their grief online and in memorial services, and have brought particular pain to the special operations community.

If confirmed by the Senate, Conley will continue to manage the aftermath of both incidents. Conley is a career Osprey pilot himself and previously flew the now-retired MH-53 Pave Low helicopter, and commanded at the squadron and wing and in deployed special operations positions.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Mike Conley, outgoing commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, addresses Air Commandos during a promotion ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, June 8, 2020. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Blake Wiles

Conley would also join a relatively small group of general officers who skipped the major general rank—current deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services Lt. Gen. Caroline M. Miller did so in 2022, Lt. Gen. Christopher F. Burne did so in 2014, and Lt. Gen. Richard C. Harding did it in 2010. Lt. Gen. Dale R. White, the current military deputy to Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter, skipped a rank as well, though his situation was impacted by a monthslong hold on all general officer nominations in the Senate.

Tabor was nominated for deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, to succeed Lt. Gen. Richard G. Moore Jr., who is retiring. The job of the so-called A8 is a key position on the Air Staff at the Pentagon, serving as the Air Force’s senior force planner.

A two-star general since 2019, Tabor has been on Moore’s team since June 2022, serving as director of programs in the office. Moore also served in that role before becoming A8. Prior to his service at the Pentagon, Tabor was a career special operator with numerous joint special operations assignments and combat assignments.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. David Tabor, then-Special Operations Command Europe Commanding General, speaks with Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Hryhoriy Halahan, Commander of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, prior to a low-level flight over Kyiv, Ukraine, Aug. 25, 2021. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Izabella Workman

Hensley is currently the deputy commander of the 16th Air Force, having served in that position for just under a year after a two-year stint at the National Security Agency. He has spent most of his career in intelligence roles. Now, he may be set to manage a big shift in the Air Force’s cyber warfare.

Air Forces Cyber will become a direct reporting unit to the Air Force Secretary under the Air Force’s “re-optimization” plans, rather than a Numbered Air Force under Air Combat Command. The final plans for that change, however, have yet to be unveiled.

Finally, the nominee to become the new surgeon general, DeGoes, currently serves as the USAF’s deputy surgeon general, overseeing the office’s daily functions. If confirmed, DeGoes would become the chief medical advisor to Air Force and Space Force and lead the Air Force Medical Service.

The nominations for Bauernfeind, Conley, Tabor, Hensley, and DeGoes were sent to the Senate on May 14.