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Reaching for the stars: Air Force Space Command vice commander promoted to Lt. Gen.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Air Force Space Command vice commander received his third star here March 21.

Surrounded by family, friends and well wishers, Maj. Gen. Michael J. Basla was elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in a promotion ceremony here at AFSPC Headquarters.

The Coach and the team

Affectionately known as "Coach," General Basla attributed much of his success to the Air Force team. He initially earned this call sign when he was a high school math teacher and a football and track coach, before he entered the Air Force.

When asked about how this call sign has stayed with him all these years, General Basla explains, "'Coach' kind of stuck with me because it's the way I think I approach the Air Force as well. It's about the team. It's bigger than any one of us. A coach tries to pass on information and also tries to bring out the best in people."

General Basla has brought the team concept with him throughout his career. As a lieutenant at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif., he saw himself as being part of a team and his teammates were Tech. Sgt. Mike Parack and Master Sgt. Charles Thomas, both of whom General Basla recognized as mentors along with his group commander at the time, Col. Jiggs Watnee.

"What's important is that wherever you are, you're doing your absolute best and the people around you can count on you," said General Basla.

A communications officer by trade, his interactions with the space domain were as a "customer" of these capabilities. This brought some initial challenges when the General came to the Command.

"The first challenge was something that I told General Kehler (the former AFSPC commander) when I got on board--that I need to be credible on space issues. So I've tried to learn as much as I can about space," said General Basla.

The second challenge has been to remind members of the command and himself, that he is not the senior communications officer in AFSPC, saying "I've really tried to be the Vice Commander, which entails broader responsibilities and requires a more expansive focus, and I think I've achieved that."

As AFSPC gained the cyberspace mission alongside its space responsibilities, it recognized a need for a senior leader whose background in cyberspace would complement the commander's background in space, which General Basla believes makes a stronger team.

From bars to stars

As a teacher in Orange County, N. Y., near West Point, and with a growing family, General Basla recalls that things were tight and he needed to do something else to make ends meet. That something else came to him when he saw some West Point cadets.

"I saw some of the West Point cadets in uniform, and I said to my wife, 'I think I'd like to wear a uniform,'" said General Basla. "So the day after my wife delivered our third daughter, I went to an Air Force recruiter."
His goal at the time was to gain technical experience from the Air Force to complement his math degree, and then seek potential opportunities somewhere in industry. But it was at his first duty assignment at McClellan AFB where he and his family realized "the people that we were working with and the things we were asked to do were pretty awesome and pretty special," said the general.

It was then the thought of a career in the Air Force started to look like a good idea. After some research on what it would be like for his children to grow up in the Air Force, he and his family made the commitment.

Though he never thought about leaving the Air Force to pursue other endeavors, General Basla did think of changing career fields.

"It's kind of interesting because I was in a technical career field and I thought, if I'm going to stay in the Air Force, let me go fly," said General Basla. "They said, 'Not so fast, we just sent you to a year of technical school,' and because I came into the Service a little older than my counterparts, the Air Force wanted to recover some of the investment they made in my communications training. So we said, 'Okay. This is where we're going to be; we're going to do this.'"

General Basla admits he has been lucky in his career. "I've just been blessed to have had great bosses, to have been surrounded by quality Airmen, and had great opportunities; and I've tried to make the most of them. It doesn't mean I haven't made mistakes, but you need to learn from those mistakes and continue to grow."

Mentors

As with many leaders, General Basla attributes much of his success to strong mentors in his life and career.

He notes his parents taught him his work ethic, but teachers and coaches, like Dr. Bob Ford, Head Coach for the University at Albany's football program, were some of his early mentors.

Dr. Ford described General Basla as an outstanding human-being. "I respected him very much when he was an undergraduate and I respect him more now."

General Basla was always respected by his peers Dr. Ford recalled, adding, "I am very proud of him and happy he is getting this promotion."


"I was the first in my family to go to college. My role models were teachers, so it wasn't unusual that I decided initially to pursue teaching as a profession," said the General.

Throughout his Air Force career, General Basla had many mentors he says provided opportunities to excel, from General C. Robert Kehler and General William L. Shelton, the current AFSPC commander, to General Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff--then commander of U.S. Transportation Command. When General Basla worked on the Joint Staff, he counted Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as someone who presented opportunities to him.

General Basla notes of his mentors, retired Maj. Gen. John Stihl as one of his earliest role models. General Basla, then Captain Basla, was chosen to be the aide-de-camp to General Stihl when he commanded Air Force Communications Command.

"General Stihl began his career as a fighter pilot, so he had an operations-focused mentality, attitude, and perspective," said General Basla.

General Stihl taught him about operations, General Basla recalls. "I say that I'm an operator at heart and not a 'comm guy.' I'm a comm guy by technical trade, but I found out how communications and information really become part of operations, and he (General Stihl) helped me do that. So he's a great mentor."

A changing Air Force

The Air Force was a very different place when General Basla entered active duty in 1979. Back then, the average Airman did not have much knowledge of how air power contributes to the joint fight. The Air Force was not an expeditionary force and was engaged in the Cold War.

"Our Airmen are a lot more savvy about what air power contributes to the joint fight than I ever was at their age," said General Basla, "That's because they're in it. They're expeditionary. We weren't expeditionary then. So I give our young Airmen, and I'm talking about the young Airmen now, I give them a tremendous amount of credit because they get it--they understand how our Air Force is an essential member of the Joint team."

General Basla also recognizes changes in the culture of the Air Force. In the past, the sole focus of the Air Force seemed to be about air power. The focus was concentrated on those who flew and everyone else was there to provide support.

"When I was a second lieutenant, really the Air Force was solely about air power. It was about the rated community and everybody else was non-rated in a support role," recalled the general.

Today the Air Force recognizes space contributions from across the spectrum of Air Force capabilities that lead to the success of the Air Force mission.

"Public affairs and the strategic communications [they] put together are extremely important to our success. We didn't get that before," commented General Basla. "The critical roles of civil engineers and security forces are more examples."

The Air Force has recognized in recent decades the significance of space as a domain and its increasingly critical role in joint operations. While cyberspace is nascent in this regard, great strides are being made on this front, as well.

"[The Air Force is] recognizing now what the contributions are to the joint fight for space," said General Basla. "Our Air Force appreciates that more now and I think we're a better part of the joint team because of it."

As the Air Force continues to change and new challenges emerge, the General stands ready to face them as they come.

"As long as the Air Force needs me to stay and serve, I'm going to continue to do that," he said, adding, "Suit me up and put me in, Coach--because I'm ready for whatever that next challenge is."

Advice

When asked what one piece of advice he would give to AFSPC Airmen and civilians, General Basla said, "Jump in and really eat, live and sleep this great profession that we've chosen.

"Great challenges are put in front of us every day. So give a person an opportunity, to go as far as he or she wants to go in our United States of America," General Basla stated. "I really mean that. That's why I can sit here today with the honor to serve our nation as a three star."