18th Air Force Commander Maj Gen Bibb Talks About Readiness, High Standards, and Getting Back to Basics


Maj Gen Kenneth T. Bibb Jr. is the Commander of the 18th Air Force (AF) headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, IL. The 18th Air Force provides air mobility forces to Air Mobility Command (AMC) and combatant commanders by ensuring the readiness and sustainment of approximately 36,000 active duty, Reserve, and civilian Airmen at 12 wings and one standalone group.

Bibb came on duty 31 years ago and has served in a wide variety of Air Mobility platforms, from the smallest airplane,the C-12 Huron, to the C-21, which is used for passenger and cargo airlift. He started flying C-12s in support of remote long-range radar sites in Alaska, landing on mountainsides. Bibb later flew the C-5M Super Galaxy, the largest aircraft in the Air Force fleet, and has had the opportunity to fly many AMC aircraft, including the KC-135, C-17, and the KC-46.

Bibb believes the assignments outside of his comfort zone—such as serving as Commander of the 618th Air Operations Center and later as Director of Strategic Plans, Programs, Requirements, and Analyses at the Air Force Materiel Command—have helped to prepare him for his current duties.

Bibb and CMSgt Chad Bickley, 18 AF Command Chief Master Sergeant, work to ensure that 18 AF Airmen are properly organized, trained, and equipped to be ready for the high-end fight. One of their main priorities is to prepare Airmen for contested global mobility operations, which can happen at any time or place.

“Our primary role is to advocate for our Airmen,” Bibb said. “We think the key unit for our nation is the family, and the key unit for our Air Force is the squadron.”

Bibb credits AMC Commander Gen Michael A. Minihan with helping to translate the National Defense Strategy for AMC. “He has made a big impact … and really focused us on our most dangerous threat, and that would be the Chinese military in the future,” Bibb said. “While we hope to never have to fight, I think his focus on preparing for our most challenging fight has really made us better.” Bibb noted that AMC has to be ready for everything, including natural disasters; conflicts with countries such as Iran, North Korea, and China; and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “When you focus in on the worst-case and our most challenging scenarios, if you focus in on China, it has really helped us to get down to the level of detail that I think we needed to get better and get to the next level, to be ready to support our leaders and our National Defense Strategy.”

Bibb said what he loves about the Air Force is serving with other highly motivated Airmen who are willing to sacrifice, serve, and even put their lives on the line for the United States.

“The only advice I have for my fellow Airmen is don’t be afraid to set the bar high,” he said. “I’ve never been in a unit with high standards and low morale. I think if you want to raise morale in your unit, the quickest way to do that is to raise the standards and make sure everybody knows that we’re part of a championship team. The Airmen we have in the 18th Air Force really are that championship team.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of the safety culture that our Airmen have, and I think a lot of that goes back to our wingman culture of looking out for each other and doing the right thing.”

– Maj Gen Kenneth T. Bibb Jr.

That level of excellence can be found throughout AMC, Bibb added. “ When you think about it, who else is better in the world at strategical airlift or tactical airlift, aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuation, or for our GAMSS [Global Air Mobility Support System] response support, [and] on-the-ground or enroute support?” he said.

Bibb noted that the job Airmen do can be very dangerous. “Our job is to run to the sound of gunfire and deliver hope where our nation needs it. Balancing that risk is important, and we trust our youngest Airmen to do that. When we talk about mission-type orders and our Airmen being empowered to make decisions, manage risk, and make important decisions that affect the safety of all the Airmen around them, that’s a lot of trust for a 20-year-old or even a 53-year-old like me.”

Bibb explained that Airmen need to be experts in their craft and then be able to lead other Airmen after acquiring that expertise. “I couldn’t be prouder of the safety culture that our Airmen have, and I think a lot of that goes back to our wingman culture of looking out for each other and doing the right thing.”

In a 2020 directive, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Charles “CQ” Brown challenged all Airmen to “accelerate change or lose.” “’Accelerating’ doesn’t mean not doing the little things right,” Bibb said. “We have to do the little things right; we have to follow checklists. Accelerating doesn’t mean cutting corners.”

In the past 6 months, Bibb and Bickley have traveled to various locations to meet Airmen in person. “We listened to the stories of our phenomenal Airmen and the tough decisions that they’ve made at the front end of the fight to excel and support our nation,” Bibb said. “I’m so proud of what I get to see our Airmen do every day.”

When he reflects on the past year, Bibb thinks about the medics who were the last ones out of Kabul, Afghanistan, after deploying into Kandahar 3 months earlier. In the final weeks, the last few Airmen manning the hospital had to sleep on the floor and save all their water for the patients. They could not even brush their teeth or shower and had to keep a round in the chambers of their guns to defend themselves. “At the same time, they were completely focused on our patients, evacuating a record number after surgery,” Bibb recalled.

In another example, Bibb said that when the lead aircraft scheduled to airlift the last remaining U.S. forces out of Kabul faced a critical malfunction just before takeoff, it looked like they would have to tail swap. A Staff Sergeant and three Airmen leaped into action. “The mission commander called her [the Staff Sergeant], and she said, ‘Hey, Sir, give my team 30 minutes and we’ll have it fixed. We’ve got your back,’” Bibb recalled. Twenty-five minutes later, the maintenance problem was fixed, the airplanes took off, and the mission was successful.

Bibb also cited the Air Force Air Transportation Specialists who helped make Operation Allies Refuge happen. “It was just incredible for the problems and the challenges they dealt with on the ground, the care they took in taking care of our passengers, the care they took with our airplanes,” Bibb said. “I think about our defenders on board, keeping the crew safe, and helping deliver babies, and helping break up fights, and all the other little things that have to go right to make that happen.”

“As Chief Bickley and I get to look those Airmen in the eyes, I really take that to be the highlight of my career, not anything I did, just watching our Airmen succeed,” Bibb said. “It’s just an honor to be a part of the team.”