USAFE CV departs Europe, thanks teammates for ‘can-do’ attitude

by 1st Lt. Eydie Sakura
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs

Optimism — it’s what keeps Lt. Gen. Stephen P. Mueller passionate and energetic enough to tackle the challenges put before him. The U.S. Air Forces in Europe vice commander leaves the command today, after 20 months of service.

He spent his tenure leading the headquarters staff on a journey to transform and merge 17th Air Force, 3rd Air Force and Headquarters USAFE staffs into a single staff.

“It sounds relatively simple, but that level of change is not just a change of organizational structure, but a change of the staff’s DNA,” Mueller said. 
“It changes how they do business every day, which takes an enormous team effort to do. The Airmen out there in the wings are doing the mission. 

Our job [at headquarters] is to resource and support them; it takes a real can-do attitude to do that. Helping lead the staff to where we are today, that’s one thing I’m really proud of.”

Through the course of traveling around the command, Mueller experienced many cultures, met Airmen who perform the mission, and saw an attitudinal shift. “Optimism is really important. I say this because people have the propensity to pick up a pessimistic view,” he said. 

“We’re on a downward trend with the budget that sometimes is projected as the ‘sky is falling’ in the budget world. Clearly a 10 percent loss in budget is still 90 percent of what you have.

If you pick up the optimistic viewpoint that says, ‘Boy, there’s a lot we can do, rather than the little we can’t do, then the team will be successful.’ Airmen have found ways of saying, ‘yes’ rather than explaining why they can’t do something.”
The headquarters restructure and inactivation of 17th Air Force creates strategic opportunities for USAFE in Africa, as well as continued strategic partnering in Europe. It doesn’t take an enormous effort to change a relationship 20 years into the future, Mueller said.

“I’m a big believer that what makes partnerships successful here is not our equipment, rather the people and the families assigned here,” he said. “I have really, really tremendous friendships over here. I [have grown to] appreciate the European approach to life. It’s simply something that helps ground me; do you work to live or live to work? 

It’s a simple perspective, but very often in the U.S. and in the military, we tend to be incredibly driven, which can drive your life out of balance. I feel like my life re-
balances here.”

His best advice for supervisors and leaders is to empower your people. He said leaders at all levels should do so in a meaningful way that is not a façade.
People need to know, not just feel, but know they have the authority and responsibility to execute their job and their mission, he said. “The breadth of responsibility [at USAFE] is pretty enormous,” the vice commander said.

“It’s about prioritizing. You’re faced with challenges every day and you tackle them. Like any other team, you need great players and when I look at our USAFE team, I see that we have really great players.

Thank you for being so good at what you do; we wouldn’t be the best Air Force in the world if everyone didn’t strive to be their best, and if leaders didn’t cultivate that excellence.”

The next chapter in his life has him headed to Washington, D.C., where he said he’s honored to be selected as the new Air Force Inspector General, the single office that oversees the execution of the Air Force mission. 

“It’s a big responsibility and a bit daunting to give the Secretary of the Air Force and Air Force Chief of Staff the appropriate feedback on how we’re doing the mission,” he said. “I would like to try to make things better. I’d like to make a lasting impact on the Air Force.”

When the three-star general thinks about leaving Europe again, he says his wife would describe him as “weepy,” but Mueller said he’s sad in a lot of ways.
“I never say, ‘good-bye’ it’s always, ‘see you later’ as I know our paths will probably cross again in the future,” he said.