Lt. Gen. Angelella: Reflection of Service
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- If you ask just about any boy or girl what they want to be when they grow up, you are likely to get a variety of answers -firefighter, cop, teacher or even cowboy. If you would have asked a certain young man from Ringwood, New Jersey in 1975, he would have told you he wanted to fly.
Fast forward 38 years and you'll find him with three stars meticulously set on each shoulder, silver hair and a hearty smile as he reflects upon his career serving in the Big Blue.
Having attended football games at the U.S. Military Academy as a high school student, Lt. Gen. Sam Angelella, U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander, became interested in military life at an age when many teenagers still question their future.
"I knew I wanted to get an education and I wanted to serve," he said.
Set on accomplishing these goals, Angelella entered the Air Force Academy in 1977 with his keen eyesight set on becoming a pilot. Four years later, Angelella began his undergraduate pilot training at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona.
"I actually use to get a little airsick when I was learning how to fly," Angelella admitted. "Fortunately, I got used to it."
Angelella said that his seat in the cockpit during his training gave him the opportunity to see the U.S. from a new and unique perspective, from which he was truly inspired by the beauty of the country.
Although he knew he wanted to fly since childhood, it wasn't until he experienced the power behind piloting his first jet that he knew exactly what he wanted to fly.
"I still remember the feeling I got the first time I kicked on the afterburners," said Angelella with a twinkle in his brown eyes as he recalled that moment. "It was then that I knew that I wanted to fly high-performance airplanes for the rest of my career."
After graduating from pilot training, Angelella remained at Williams AFB as an instructor pilot, where he would help foster that same love for flying in his students.
"As a T-38 instructor pilot, to take young men and women straight out of college, many of whom have little or no experience with planes, and not only teach them how to fly, but also see them graduate pilot training was extremely rewarding," he said.
As his career progressed, Angelella found himself piloting from the ground in the form of many different staff assignments.
"When I was a young major, I was on the F-16 programming team at Headquarters U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C.," Angelella said.
"The improvements that we proposed for the F-16 are now on the F-16. The new avionics and weapons capabilities increased the performance of the aircraft and have helped shape the future force structure for all Airmen."
And while Angelella acknowledges his staff assignments as both interesting and exciting, he revealed that his multiple opportunities to serve as a commander were his most rewarding.
"Being a commander has been the most invaluable job as you really get to make an impact on Airmen and their families," said Angelella. "I've also had the opportunity to serve as a commander at a deployed location during combat. Serving my country in that capacity has truly been fulfilling. That's why I serve."
During his career, Angelella served as commander for the 13th Fighter Squadron and 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan; the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia; the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina; and his current assignment here at Yokota.
"I never foresaw my career playing out the way that it has," Angelella said. "I just took it one assignment at a time and it has continued to be rewarding."
Angelella spent 16 years overseas and over nine years in Japan.
"I've commanded a squadron, wing, and numbered Air Force here in Japan," Angelella reflected.
"The international relationships and friendships that my family and I have formed is something that I'll treasure forever," the general said with a smile. "We really feel a part of the global community."
Now, after 34 years, two months and four days, Sam Angelella and his family will head back stateside to explore life outside of the Air Force.
"It's tough leaving as I know I still have a lot of energy left," said Angelella. "But I'm comfortable giving up my seat as I know those who will follow are more than capable of handling any challenges that will face them."
No one, not even the man himself, could have foreseen that attending football games at West Point, sharp eyesight, and the pursuit of higher education would be the catalyst to an Air Force career that lasted for more than a quarter century.
"I just want to thank my family for the support and for hanging in there with me for all these years," Angelella said fondly. "I owe it all to them."
Photo: Lt. Gen. Sam Angelella, U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander, renders a salute July 20, 2012, during a change of command ceremony at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Delano Scott)
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