In August, you took over command of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Africa and are, at the same time, Commander of the Air Component Command. How could an immigrant from Slovenia, who left his country at the age of four, succeed in the United States?
My parents wanted my brother and I to receive an education. They both understood the value of schooling and how it would serve as an investment to advance our assimilation. That was their dream and I’m proud of them because they worked hard to ensure my brother and I went to college and had the opportunity to advance and succeed. In America, your ability to succeed is directly proportionate to your efforts. Most people who exercise drive and tenacity will have all of those opportunities, particularly those of us in the United States military. You learn pretty early that if you perform and deliver results, you will move forward. I am living example of that.
Where did you live and how do you remember those times?
I was born in Ljubljana and I have relatives in Ljubljana, Brezovica and Velike Lašče.
You and your brother Stanley are both generals. Where did the wish to put on the military uniform come from?
When I was a freshman in high school, I visited my older brother, Stan, who was attending the U.S. Air Force Academy at the time. The short answer is, I immediately got hooked. The Academy was very high-tech looking, and I knew then it was an organization that boldly represented innovation and a boundless future. The Air Force Academy presented me with an opportunity to get a scholoarship, receive a great education and serve. I couldn't be happier with my decision.
Your career path is amazing. Have you ever been regarded as an immigrant?
I am a Slovenian-American. In the military, people come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and what makes us so unique is the diversity we bring to the table. It’s important within the U.S. Air Force to recognize and accept our diversity, which includes diversity of thought, culture and religion -- and to promote an environment where all Airmen can succeed.
Every year, candidates from Slovenian enroll in U.S. military academies. As a rule, they are very successful, if not among the best, even compared with US cadets. What do you think is the reason for the success of Slovenian military students?
I'm aware and very proud of the quality of cadets you offer our institutions. But this should not be surprising. Slovenians are very hard working people. They understand where they want to go, and have a natural work ethic that is unbeatable. So again, it is no surprise that Slovenian military students are so successful.
In your opinion, what kind of aviation capabilities should be developed in Slovenia?
This is really a question the Slovenian people and their elected government should embrace and answer. It would be presumptuous for me to offer my opinion.
You visited CerkljeAirfield, whose building was financed by NATO. What is the reason for NATO investing in such projects and what are NATO’s concrete plans for Cerklje?
As you know those issues and pending decisions are being worked at the national level, between NATO and Slovenia. I'm not in a position to speculate on the outcome of those deliberations.
What are the main opportunities that our airforces should take while we have a very small number of staff?
It’s not my place to say what the Slovenian Air Force should do. I can tell you that economic uncertainty creates challenges for our military. I’m sure it is a challenge that is common to many nations and many air forces around the world. USAFE-AFAFRICA has certainly taken on its share of budget cuts in recent years. The entire U.S. Government is under ten years of sequestration, mandated across the board, including the Department of Defense. I believe the way to overcome obstacles and deal with current and future challenges is by leveraging the strength and innovation of our Airmen. Despite these fiscal challenges, our Airmen stand ready to perform the mission and enable joint and allied success.
What do you think about our AF maintenance unit and JTAG?
I think that both the AF maintenance unit and the JTAC are professional, well run organizations that contribute greatly to the mission of the SAF. Clearly, they understand their role in achieving the mission.
The Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) are a small and young military and, yet, have a long tradition. The SAF operate in particular in peace operations. What is your opinion about Slovenia’s contribution to NATO and do you miss something?
Slovenia's contributions to international efforts have been outstanding; particularly noteworthy are the common security objectives in the Balkans. The Slovenian Armed Forces have had a stabilizing influence in the region, maintaining a presence in NATO's Kosovo Force. Other contributions include the partnership between Slovenia and the Colorado National Guard, with the multiple co-deployments to Afghanistan as well as hosting large multinational exercises. There is no doubt that Slovenia has provided valuable contributions within NATO. In this complex world and as our militaries get smaller, we are going to have to rely on each other more. Nobody can do it alone.
What were your topics in talks with minister and chief of general staff and conclusions?
I will not discuss the details, but, generally, we talked about topics including NATO, the role of an air force and how it fits in with joint, coalition and alliance air operations, and issues with respect to organizing, training and equipping an air force. We also discussed ways to continue to develop and nurture a closer relationship in the future, a relationship that can better facilitate Slovenia’s contribution to the alliance in the future.
The air forces have always been awed. What is today's role of the air forces, since classic dog fights and wars are no longer engaged in, as nowadays it is all about unconventional combat against terrorism and guerrillas?
Through our Airmen and core missions of Air and Space Superiority, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, Rapid Global Mobility, Global Strike, and Command and Control, the U.S. Air Force provides Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power for America. That’s what we do. Regardless of the type of war, the U.S. Air Force brings an asymmetric advantage for national decision makers and combatant commanders to achieve national security objectives. USAFE-AFAFRICA’s forward-based, ready forces are executing missions today and our support for regional and global operations continue to enable Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power.
Classic aircraft are increasingly replaced by UAVs (RPAs- Remotely Piloted Aircraft). Is war going to move to the cyber arena?
You shouldn’t be surprised when I say there will continue to be a need for manned aircraft for the foreseeable future. However, remotely piloted aircraft do in fact represent a wonderful technology that has increased our ability to deliver precise combat power from the air. A remotely piloted aircraft provides a persistence that was not previously there. With the RPA we can loiter over a target for hours or even days, developing a greater understanding and higher fidelity of what we are observing. Consequently, we can deliver unprecedented precision from the air, in a way that saves lives while elevating the level of precise lethality.
F-22, F-35, EF typhoon, PAK FA and J20? Which one will govern the skies in the next ten years?
Obviously they are all very capable weapon systems. However, I am more focused on the strength of the NATO alliance, further developing interoperability and the bonds we need to continue protecting mutual security and interests. I will leave the evaluation of these weapons systems to the technical experts.
How many times have you visited Slovenia and how do you experience Slovenia?
This was my third visit to Slovenia. While it was a quick visit, I did get to reconnect with family on my father’s and mother’s side. I hope to visit again soon and bring more members of my family including my wife and brother.
This trip really reinforced to me the beauty of Slovenia but more importantly, reinforced to me the spirit of the Slovenian people. Friendly, caring and loyal to their families and dedicated to living life to the fullest, Slovenians are happy and exude enthusiasm. I grew up with the Slovenian community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and that is what I remember about childhood. We were happy, enthusiastic, and completely dedicated to our families.
You also visited your relatives in Velike Lašče.
It was a great visit to Slovenia. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to visit with my family during that time, so it was very nice to do so. I can honestly say not a day goes by that I don’t think about my family. In the end we had such a warm reception. It was a great experience to be able to see them again after so long.