SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – During these uncertain and unprecedented times, it takes a strong, no-nonsense leader to take on the responsibility of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training mission here.
A fighter pilot with combat experience took on that role June 19, 2020, when Col. Robert F. Haas Jr. assumed command of the 80th Flying Training Wing, home to the only internationally manned and operated pilot training program.
Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander, officiated the change of command ceremony via remote technology as Col. Russell D. Driggers relinquished command after two years leading the organization.
Haas said he is humbled by the opportunity to lead the unique wing, and his desire is to meet and exceed expectations of the Air Education and Training Command and the Air Force. That begins, he said, with the men and women who are Team ENJJPT.
“I have been an (introduction to fight fundamentals) instructor pilot, a (specialized undergraduate pilot training) squadron commander, I was a SUPT operations group commander, and now I’m finally joining the ENJJPT team,” he said. “Know this. There is no higher bar than being a member of the ENJJPT team in the pilot training business.”
The colonel said his path, just as the program’s mission, is illuminated by mission needs, accepting smart risks to accomplish the mission, believing in safe and disciplined flying operations, and wholeheartedly subscribing to diversity. He said he can’t think of another organization that represents those areas better than ENJJPT.
Wills said Haas has a “phenomenal reputation as a fighter pilot” as well as in the roles of an instructor, operations leader and commander. He said his previous Air Force experience has prepared him to lead such a diverse organization that trains combat pilots for 14 NATO countries.
“With tours at Aviano (Air Base, Italy) and Ramstein (AB, German), Bob has a deep understanding of NATO and he has long-lasting relationships that will certainly serve him well in this capacity,” the general said. “He is a straight shooter, no-nonsense leader, deep thinker and gets the job done and takes care of his people along the way.”
Wills applauded Haas’s accomplishments as the 71st Operations Group commander, his role before taking command of the 80th FTW. The general said Haas was at the forefront of AETC’s innovation efforts when it comes to UPT 2.5, an effort to maximize pilot training through the use of conventional training methods and innovative platforms such as virtual, augmented and mixed realities.
The 80th FTW and ENJJPT, he said, has played a lead role in implementing those technologies into the classroom.
“In short, you’ll find no leader that’s better prepared to assume command of this fine wing than Bob Haas,” Wills said. “He’s a NATO warrior, he’s a strategist, he’s an innovator, he’s a thinker and a leader who will take this program to the next level.”
The 19th AF commander also thanked Driggers for his leadership of the wing the past two years, part of which included figuring out how to continue the mission in the midst of COVID-19.
“Russ, I’m immensely proud of the work you and the ENJJPT team have done in the face of this unprecedented threat,” he said. “You found smart ways to split into pods to keep the operation flowing. In fact, (ENJJPT) set the bar very high early on.”
Wills applauded Driggers for leading the wing through the pursuit of innovative technologies in pilot training to produce combat pilots better and faster, for building strong local relationships that helped with encroachment issues, and for being a key voice in the ENJJPT Steering Committee and fostering trust among its members during a challenging time.
Driggers, just as he did when he took command of the wing two years ago, spoke about gratitude, giving and gravity. The list of “thank you’s” was long and deserving, and the amount of effort and dedication given to the program, the products, the students and the partner nations by members of Team ENJJPT was unwavering, he said. The gravity of the program, especially during COVID-19, was never lost on those in the organization.
“The Legion of Merit is a reflection of what the wing has accomplished. It’s a reflection of what y’all have done,” he said of the award presented to him during the ceremony. “For me, it’s something I get to put on my uniform and wear as a daily reminder of you and what you have achieved.”
Following the ceremony, Driggers promoted to the rank of brigadier general, frocked.