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Meet the AFCENT Commander: Lt. Gen. Derek France

  • Published
  • By Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) Public Affairs
  • Ninth Air Force

Lt. Gen. Derek France took command of Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) as the Combined Forces Air Component Commander under U.S. Central Command, April 18, 2024. With three decades of military knowledge and experience, France shared some insights into his leadership philosophy and his vision for the future of the Air Forces Central’s operations and partnerships throughout the Middle East and across Central and South Asia.

Where It All Began

France began his Air Force career in 1992 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a pilot training slot at Texas’s Laughlin Air Force Base. He went on to hold several command positions at the squadron, group, wing, and Numbered Air Force levels.

Growing up with a father who served in the Air Force, France imagined himself following in his family’s footsteps from a young age. While seeing his father dedicate his career to military service inspired him to join, part of his motivation to continue serving was the camaraderie he felt with his team during his time as an F-15C Eagle pilot at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School

While a weapons school instructor, he faced a family hardship that tested his resilience, but ultimately showcased the value of his wingmen. “My fellow instructors, despite their own demanding schedules, came together to support me during one of my most challenging times,” France said. “That stuck out in my mind, and the solidarity was transformative for me. That’s what we do in an Air Force family, we take care of each other.”

France has previously served in numerous roles, including time as a weapons officer, weapons school instructor, and even an assignment as an Instructor Pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force’s Weapons School. These experiences and his commitment to the Air Force’s core values shaped much of the leadership style Airmen across AFCENT can expect from their commander.

Leadership Fundamentals

France asserts that his own leadership philosophy is grounded in five key areas. During his first discussions with wing leaders under his command, France reinforced these fundamentals of leadership: Pride, Teamwork, Core values, Accountability, and Resiliency.

Operate as a Team from Day One

One aspect of service he emphasized: Operating as a team from day one. France recalled his first day in command saying, “We had Airmen flying combat sorties alongside our coalition partners” to highlight the importance of the integrated coalition. “Maintaining multi-capable and ready teams is critical to accomplishing the mission,” France mentioned. “Our teams and our relationships with our international partners are vital to success.”

Additionally, France spoke about the priority of mission readiness, and that readiness can be deterred or advanced in the face of frequently revolving teams in this deployed environment. He doesn't necessarily view frequent rotations as a hindrance, but rather as an opportunity to increase mission readiness. “A diverse team is a powerful team,” he said. “We are seeing various fields of expertise coming into the theater that allow Airmen to maintain compatibility and interoperability to get after our shared objectives with our regional and international partners.”

Don’t Sacrifice the Important Things

“It’s important for Airmen not to sacrifice the important things at the altar of the urgent,” France specified when describing the need to stay focused on the mission while underscoring the need for personal resilience and balance.

“We have to be intentional about our daily habits,” he said. “Being deployed is an opportunity to find balance in the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, whether spiritual, social, mental, or physical; that personal balance is necessary to the success of the team.”

France hopes his tenure at AFCENT supports the teams who will continue contributing and delivering dominant coalition combat power to support the region’s collective vision for security and stability.

“I’ve been blown away by the level of dedication in the Airmen at AFCENT, France noted. “They have been operating beyond my expectations, and I’m extremely proud to be a part of this team.”