JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md.- Air Force Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke, director of the Air National Guard and a strong advocate of the Total Force Continuum as well as the State Partnership Program, retired Dec. 18, after more than 34 years of military service.
During the ceremony at the Air National Guard Readiness Center at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, former Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Mosley led the ceremony and complimented his friend and fellow Airman.
"You are in the lineage of American Airmen...that flew in the Lafayette Escadrille, that flew with Mitchell ... that flew with Chennault and the Flying Tigers, and that flew with the Tuskegee Airmen up the Italian peninsula into southern Germany," said Mosley. "You've left that legacy with [us] all... you're a pro and your family made this possible."
As the Air National Guard director, Clarke was responsible for formulating, developing and coordinating all policies, plans, and programs affecting the more than 105,700 Guard members and civilians in more than 89 flying wings and 175 geographically separated units across 213 locations throughout the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
The broad swath of responsibility was a burden Clarke took on with great appreciation. When he testified before Congress earlier in 2015, Clarke noted the Air Guard supports combatant commanders around the globe, and continues to be a "proven choice" for the war-fighting operations they support.
"We have ... consistently deployed members of the Air National Guard," Clarke said. "In fact, over 2,000 are deployed today across the globe doing a variety of operations."
During his tenure, he also pushed for continued security cooperation. "We have bilateral relationships that don't even exist inside the State Partnership Program that we support," he told Congress. "An example of that would be what we do for the air forces of Iraq -- we're doing the training for the C-130J's ... and the F-16 foreign training is all done at Tucson [Arizona] by the Air National Guard."
Members of Clarke's immediate staff said one of the most important legacies the director would want to be remembered by is his commitment to the Total Force Continuum concept and his "Ready Airmen" initiatives.
To accomplish these goals, Clarke worked closely with Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh. During his retirement speech, Clarke thanked them both; "No component of any service, at any time in history, has had a better friend as a service secretary than Debbie James ... and you two are tremendous advocates of the Total Force."
Clarke began his Air Force career in 1981 when he was named a distinguished graduate of the University of Georgia ROTC program. He joined the Alabama Air National Guard in 1991, and went on to serve in multiple joint positions, including the senior defense official and defense attaché to Turkey and NORAD.
As he spoke about the high points of his career, Clarke recalled a few poignant moments in the air and on the ground.
"I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, I just wasn't sure someone would give me the chance," he said. "I can vividly recall flying at 100 feet over the swamps of Carolina in brand new A-10s, and squeezing the trigger on a 30mm cannon for the first time. And I can still play scenes in my head of avoiding anti-aircraft artillery over Iraq in F-16s."
The command pilot, who accumulated 4000 hours in various aircraft including the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the C-26 Metroliner, said he stayed in the service for multiple decades because he "loved the people of the Air Force and the Air National Guard."
"The Air Force took me places I would have never had the opportunity to go otherwise," he said. "Not all the memories have been good ones ... I've touched the flag-draped caskets at Bagram, and I've been at Dover to watch them come home. However, the good memories outnumber the bad ... and (I have) too many blessings to count."
Gen. Mosley took time during his speech to share a powerful tale that he said highlights "the leadership and strength of the entire Clarke family."
"This story begins in the spring of 2002; I was told to put together what would be the decisive strike at the regime which would be the air campaign (in Iraq)," Mosley said. "I asked Sid to join us in this ... because he and I have had several experiences through weapons school and a variety of other places, and I trusted him."
He said then-Colonel Clarke led and effort to build a mock up of the Iraq western front at Nellis Air Force Base ranges to meet the President's intent for the crucial mission.
"The SECDEF and president were happy with Sid's plan, which says a lot," Mosley said, "And then I told him he was going to command the effort. It was not a leap of faith for me. I knew, and Sid knew, what was at stake."
He explained that Clarke volunteered to deploy to finish the job, and set up a "beautifully executed piece of a very complicated campaign," which included flights across the Haditha dam and supporting special operations forces.
"The lives you've touched and the lives you've saved - some of them don't even know you saved them," Mosley told Clarke, "And some of them, as we enter the holidays and the Christmas season, in Australia and in the UK, some of those folks are with their families and their kids and their grandkids today because of you. And that's kind of a big deal."
In total, more than 90 general officers, as well as hundreds of former coworkers and friends, attended the ceremony to show their gratitude for Clarke's years of leadership and mentorship.
"He is an insightful, thoughtful and very dynamic leader," Taheri, ANG Readiness Center Commander, said of Clarke. "He's often quiet, and you wouldn't know it but the wheels are always turning, so when he does speak, he speaks with the kind of measured thoughts that are always one step ahead of where I wish I could have been before I started talking to him."
Clarke's replacement has yet to be named; the new director will be recommended by the Secretary of the Air Force and approved by Congress. Until that person is selected, Maj. Gen. Brian Neal, previously appointed as the deputy director of the Air National Guard, will serve as the acting Air National Guard Director.