A Gentleman’s Farewell: 5 Q&A with Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs

The old adage says all good things must come to an end, but for the outgoing AFDW commander whose change of command ceremony takes place here July 9, the goal to train, equip, and empower Airmen through a learning culture rooted in innovation continues at the next level.


Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson will soon head to U.S. Air Force Headquarters, Pentagon, Arlington, Va., where he will serve as the Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. The directorate, encompassing seven divisions and the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, is responsible for policy, guidance, and oversight of Air Force operational training, officer and enlisted operations career field management, operational readiness and reporting, and aircrew management.

The general paused to chat with Public Affairs and reflect on his two-year tenure here.

Q1: What has made you feel you’ve impacted the culture here at AFDW, or experienced that “a-ha!” moment of accomplishment?

MG J: My approach has been ultimately that if I do my job right, you’ll never notice I left. Day in and day out it’s the Airmen of this organization who do all the work. If I push decision-making as low as I can and allow Airmen to do what they’re supposed to do, in theory, somebody else can come in and the organization won’t even know that I left. This is the business about making Airmen successful.

We’ve focused on being ready at home, because of our mission to support the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region. On America’s worst day – that’s when AFDW and its forwarding organizations are ready to respond. I don’t think that you’re ever done, because the moment you take a knee and say ‘I’m ready,’ somebody leaves, something happens and your readiness gains are reversed. It’s a never-ending vigil.

Not only is it the most visible, but the ceremonial mission has been highly self-sufficient because the Airmen of the 11th Operations Group and AFDW Protocol are really so good at what they do. If you have any question, go rerun [President George H.W. Bush’s] funeral and just look at the exceptional professionalism. Every Airman in AFDW proper was all in, and what we saw was the professionalism of the 11th OG.

Q2: What’s been our biggest priority, and perhaps also our biggest challenge during your time here?

MG J: Our largest priority has been to improve the way our headquarters supports the 33,000 Airmen around the world that align to us and look for us to advocate on their behalf. If anything needs to endure, it’s that we don’t lose sight of the fact that most of the Airmen we represent don’t have anybody else advocating for them.

From the command chief who sits on the Air Force senior enlisted leader council, to everybody at this headquarters, we are trying advocate for the Airmen that the Air Force may not see because they don’t fall into a major command or they’re not on an Air Force base. We’ve been trying to tighten our support to them so that we’re taking care of the Airmen who have been directed to serve outside of the conventional Air Force.

Q3: What did you learn personally as a commander?

MG J: Partnerships matter. You can’t do a lot of what you need to do in the world without a partnership. We’re a part of the Joint Task Force, and we can’t do what the JTF needs unless we’re all working together. In our successful Squadron Commanders and Spouses Course, we leveraged viewpoints from outside the Air Force, to include developing partnerships with the City of Gettysburg, the Washington Nationals, and the NFL Players’ Association to help improve the leadership qualities of incoming squadron commanders. Partnership matters in order to bear all that there is around you to positively impact our Airmen.

The other thing that stuck is never cold-call during a crisis. You have to know the people you’re going to work with when things don’t go as expected. You need to develop partnerships in advance so when you pick up the phone, there’s a sense of understanding.

Last but not least, the strength and character of today’s Airmen is just extraordinary. Some of the young folks you meet in the Air Force with less than two years of experience are phenomenal, ready to go, and want to go do great things. You can see the caliber of the folks we’re recruiting each day.

Q4: When it comes to administrative needs, training, and family support, how has AFDW evolved to distinguish itself from Air Force major commands?

MG J: Airmen are ready to work and they’re ready to do good things, but the system sometimes gets in the way because it’s designed for 330,000 Airmen assigned to standard MAJCOMs. It’s not designed for the staff sergeant at the Miami [Military Entrance Processing Station] who’s a single mom of two. It can’t conceptualize how to help her, so it’s our job to bend the system to help her, because she signed up for that job, and she’s an Airman, whether she’s currently in an Air Force unit or not. We make sure Airmen like her are recognized as individuals. AFDW Airmen have had to figure out how to navigate through a system that’s not designed to do what they’ve been asked to do, so we’re here to help.

Q5: What’s your final message to Airmen as you prepare for the next chapter?

MG J: Every Airman has a story. If you’re a supervisor, a flight commander, squadron commander, squadron superintendent, you are in the retention business. Are you creating the opportunities and taking care of your Airmen in such a way that they and their family want to stay in the service? We don’t have a talent problem. If the talent our recruiters are delivering is that good, then it’s our job once they’re in to give them the tools and professional development that they need and retain them.  

Thanks to the Airmen of AFDW for taking a pretty difficult task and running hard with it. The good news is, I am thankful for the opportunity to have served with you; the less good news is, your job is not finished. The world needs you to continue to be great Airmen.

(Editor’s note: Check the AFDW Facebook page for coverage of Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson’s fini flight at the Joint Base Andrews flight line, July 1 at 9:00 a.m. EST)