“Lead from the front”: Special Tactics general officer retires

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Conroy
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

27 years of service. 13 assignments. Countless deployments with joint special operations units and even a stint at Harvard University.

On Sept. 8, Brig. Gen. Robert Armfield, vice director of plans and programs for U.S. Central Command, retired from the Air Force surrounded by hundreds of teammates, friends and family at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

“I cannot think of another Air Force general who has more combat time than Brig. Gen. Armfield,” said retired Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, former commander of Air Force Special Operations Command and officiant of Armfield’s retirement ceremony. “But, a lot of the things he did, you don’t hear about, because Special Tactics doesn’t like the limelight – they’re proud and professional – they don’t seek attention, they get up in the morning and do their job.”

Armfield was commissioned in 1990 from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina in Charleston. But, his aspirations for military service began earlier, in the 6th grade as he watched Operation Eagle Claw unfold in the news.

“In 1980, folks from Hurlburt Field launched out to Masirah Island, Oman to go try and rescue American hostages from the embassy in Tehran,” said Armfield during his ceremony. “I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be awesome to grow up and be a part of something like that in the future … what an amazing thing to do.”

Those aspirations remained with Armfield as he transitioned from an air weapons controller to the special tactics officer career field in 1994.In the fall of 2001, Armfield led a contingent of Special Tactics Airmen into Afghanistan to begin OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM.

Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operation Command’s tactical air and ground integration force, and the Air Force’s special operations ground force, enabling global access, precision strike, personnel recovery operations and battlefield surgery.

As a special tactics officer, Armfield was in charge of leading and ensuring Special Tactics teams were organized, equipped and trained to perform core special operations functions.

“I woke up every day and just loved what I was doing,” said Armfield. “I couldn’t wait to get to work. I loved the people I served with and I loved the mission we had.”

Several teammates expressed Armfield’s devotion to those he served, explaining his passion and focus was a driving force in his successful leadership.  

Throughout his career, Armfield commanded at the squadron, group, wing and joint expeditionary levels. His assignments ranged dramatically, from the Aide-de-Camp to the Secretary of the Air Force to being appointed the deputy-commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan.

In 2014, Armfield led the stand-up and served as the first commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing. The 24 SOW is the Air Force’s only Special Tactics Wing and is credited with being the most combat-decorated unit in the Air Force since Vietnam.

“Like many of our STOs, he leads from the front and he would never ask any of his folks to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself,” said Col. (Ret.) Eric Ray, former commander of the 24th SOW, and also served as Armfield’s deputy commander at the 720th Special Tactics Group in 2010. “On the other hand, not a lot of people see the other side where he’s a husband and a father, who cares deeply about his family.”

According to Armfield, life after retirement will be spent making time for family and friends. As one chapter of his life closes, another begins.

“The Air Force is losing an active duty general officer, but you’re gaining an active duty husband,” said Armfield, addressing his wife. “We close this chapter in the Armfield family story as a ship under full sail, our bow pointed to our horizon – the destination is unknown, but we know God is going to provision us and guide us as he has done in the past – we’re excited about what’s next.”