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The end of a season: ACC's top leader reflects on service

Gen. Gilmary Michael Hostage III, commander of Air Combat Command

Gen. Gilmary Michael Hostage III, commander of Air Combat Command

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- The plaques and awards have been taken down. The family pictures are gone and the walls are bare.  After 37 years of service and more moves than he cares to count, Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, has packed up his office for the last time.

"I can't believe it's been 37 years," Hostage said. "I feel like I just got started."

Though he feels like he's just begun, Gen. Hostage has nearly four decades of service under his belt. Since joining the Air Force in 1977, the general has logged more than 4,000 flying hours, served in combat and received numerous awards and decorations. In 2011, he took the top spot at Air Combat Command, marking his third and final assignment at Langley Air Force Base.

"Serving in the military is not like a regular job," he said. "But, waking up and coming to work every day knowing we're doing something important for the country is intensely gratifying."

But even satisfying jobs have their challenging moments. During his time as commander, Hostage led the command's Airmen through furloughs, sequestration and stand-downs. All the while, the general remained steadfastly determined to do everything he could to keep the combat air forces ready and resilient, something he knows the incoming COMACC will continue to do.

"In the coming years, I have no doubt we will see ACC remain ready," the general said. "We need to recapitalize the force and convince the rest of Air Force that the combat air forces are under resourced.

The strategic choices the Air Force has made to keep recapitalization on the forefront have not been without controversy and turmoil, facts that are not lost on the Duke University graduate.

"We ask a lot of our families, so taking care of them and keeping them informed is important. I know Gen. Carlisle is committed to that."

Gen. Hawk Carlisle will assume command of ACC on Nov. 4.

When reflecting back on his service, a smile crosses Hostage's face.

"I'm proud to have had the opportunity to serve," he said. "I'm humbled and proud to work alongside some amazing Airmen. Their level of commitment and the effort they put forth every day is what has driven me to do right by them. In the end, I feel good about what I've managed to accomplish. I've truly enjoyed it."

The Hostages will remain in the greater local area, but don't expect to see them hanging around the base. While both the general and his wife will miss their Air Force family, they will be spending their time getting accustomed to civilian life and enjoying their other family - especially the grandkids. But it will be a big change.

"Kathy and I are emotionally connected to the Airmen and all of sudden we're disconnecting, so that's very hard," the general shared. "We're essentially going from 100 knots to zero."

And although he jokes about finding post-retirement work as a Wal-Mart store greeter, the aviation enthusiast actually plans to spend his free time on special project with links to his not-so-distant past.

"I'll spend my time building my third plane," the general said. "A Pioneer 3 glider."

Despite demanding jobs and schedules, building planes has been a passion he's pursued throughout his career.

"The first one took me five years to build, the second one took me a year," he proudly said. "This one is taking me a little longer, but I'm looking forward to focusing more on it."

Nevertheless, with his retirement only days away, as the general prepares to leave Langley's gates for the final time as commander, he has a few final words for his Airmen.

"Be proud of serving. It doesn't matter if you serve for one enlistment term or 37 years, that service is important because it allows the rest of our society to enjoy and do the things they want to do because they are free."