A view from the stratosphere: General ends 33 years of service

Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, 8th Air Force commander, reviews the pre-flight check list with Staff Sgt.  Regis Reddinger, 2nd Maintenance Squadron, before his final B-52H Stratofortress flight on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 24. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service and 3,000 flight hours in the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony) (RELEASED)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. - Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, Eighth Air Force commander, reviews the pre-flight check list with Staff Sgt. Regis Reddinger, 2nd Maintenance Squadron, before his final B-52H Stratofortress flight on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 24. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service and 3,000 flight hours in the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony)

Melissa Carpenter sits in the flight cabin while her husband, Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, 8th Air Force commander, reviews the pre-flight check list before his final B-52H Stratofortress flight on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 24. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service and 3,000 flight hours in the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony) (RELEASED)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. - Melissa Carpenter sits in the flight cabin while her husband, Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, Eighth Air Force commander, reviews the pre-flight check list before his final B-52H Stratofortress flight on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 24. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service and 3,000 flight hours in the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony)

Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, 8th Air Force commander, performs his last pre-flight inspects for a B-52H Stratofortress on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 24. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service and 3,000 flight hours in the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony) (RELEASED)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. - Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, Eighth Air Force commander, performs his last pre-flight inspects for a B-52H Stratofortress on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., May 24. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service and 3,000 flight hours in the B-52. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony)

Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, 8th Air Force commander, is sprayed with a fire hose by his wife, Melissa Carpenter, after his final flight in the B-52 Stratofortress. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service to the Air Force.(U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Kristin High)(RELEASED)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. - Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, Eighth Air Force commander, is sprayed with a fire hose by his wife, Melissa Carpenter, after his final flight in the B-52 Stratofortress. General Carpenter is retiring after 33 years of service to the Air Force.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristin High)

BOSSIER CITY, La. -- The departing Eighth Air Force commander recently took time here to reflect on 33 years in the Air Force, commanding a numbered Air Force, the stand up of Global Strike command, and the people he has served with.

Summing up the accomplishments of Eighth Air Force during his two years as commander, he locked his fingers together, shot a quick glance at the football field sized "8" mowed into the field outside his window and leaned forward to offer his thoughts about service. The realization that his time as an Airman would soon end changed the look in his eyes which conveyed a melancholy demeanor.

"It has been the most incredible time and the best ride I could ever imagine. I would start over and do it all over again if I could," he said.

"I will certainly miss the mission and the flying and responsibility, but I will miss the people most - all of the great friends I have across the country - the world - who I have met throughout my career," says General Carpenter. "Especially here at Eighth Air Force - we have great people."

The proud heritage of The Mighty Eighth has made an impression on the general.

"There is an overwhelming legacy that you have to stand up to and a weight is on your shoulders - from Doolittle to Eaker and all of the other great ones who came before you and all of those people who gave their lives," he said.

"There were 26,000 people who lost their lives in World War II - that's a lot of Airmen who sacrificed for us - so we have a big legacy to live up to, and I hoped I could continue to honor that legacy."

The general's command, which began on June 1, 2009, included the stand-up of Global Strike Command only two months later. He says he sees that a lot of good has come from standing up the Air Force's first new major command in almost 30 years.

"Having Global Strike Command here watching out for us and focusing on the nuclear mission, along with the conventional side, has been a real boon for the Air Force," the general said. "We have come a long way in putting the emphasis back in the nuclear mission that we had lost in the last 15 years.

"It's a major accomplishment for the Air Force," he continued. And Eighth Air Force "had a big part of that. And now we have the focus on excellence back in that mission. We are getting the right resources in place for the weapons systems, the training, and the inspection process."

Recently, Eighth Air Force B-2s flew missions to Libya, and both B-52s and B-2s support the continuous bomber presence in Guam with constant rotations of 6-month deployments.

"We are out there supporting the current fight, so I'm proud of that," the general said.

General Carpenter reached an individual milestone as a bomber pilot during his final flight May 24 - reaching 3,000 hours in the B-52 Stratofortress.

"It was great," said General Carpenter. "We took off early, landed early, had great weather, great refueling and did some bombing out in west Texas."

The general's wife of 33 years, Melissa Carpenter, was there to greet her husband when he landed back at Barksdale from the mission, along with a large group of family and friends.

Looking back over a career that spanned more than three decades, General and Mrs. Carpenter say they learned many things - some a long time ago and some as recent as his final flight.

"I used to tease him and say 'nobody could watch all of those dials and buttons at one time,' but while we were doing the spouse taxiing for his B-52 fini-flight, I realized that this is really what Floyd does. He flies big airplanes and he protects our nation and the commander part is just the icing on the cake," she said as her voice quivered with emotion as she realized her hero will never soar in the stratosphere again.

Soon after his June 3 change of command and retirement ceremony, General Carpenter will leave Barksdale Air Force Base - which he and Melissa have called home three different times over the past three decades serving as a bomber pilot and commander.

As the Carpenters transition to the next phase of their lives, the general has this to offer.

"The Air Force, Bossier City and Shreveport communities have been so good to me and Melissa," he said. "It has been a great ride. We are thankful for the opportunity and we look forward to what happens next."