A 1987 graduate of Gallatin High School, Air Force Brig. Gen. Jim Sears commanded the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan for 12 months and then returned home to the United States on June 4, 2017. Brig. Gen. Sears took a military flight to Qatar, located next to Saudi Arabia and across from Iran in the Persian Gulf, then changed to a commercial flight to Miami to later arrive in San Antonio, TX. The trip home took 27 hours.
Sears will continue his Air Force career as the Director of Intelligence, Operations, and Nuclear Integration, Headquarters Air Education and Training Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, TX.
The 455th AEW is considered as the premier counterterrorism air mission in Afghanistan. The wing’s operations enable the NATO Resolute Support mission to successfully train, advise, and assist the military and security forces of Afghanistan, while restricting and deterring the terrorist threat in the region.
During his time at Bagram Airfield, Brig. Gen. Sears’ leadership enabled 15,800 combat sorties, accumulating to 102,877 combat hours. This resulted in more than 1,369 kinetic strikes and 2,836 enemies killed in action.
These details were reported on the website of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command where Sears thanked his family for their sacrifice the last year. He also thanked the airmen who project airpower every day as he departed from command duty in Afghanistan.
“Commanding in combat truly has been the greatest honor in my career,” said Brig. Gen. Sears.
“There are U.S. and coalition forces that were able to go back and hug their families because airmen were there when they needed them. Because of [455th AEW] airmen like you, there are fewer terrorists in the world today. I am tremendously proud of what you do every day to protect America.
“Thank you for your service and I thank your families for their sacrifices today and every day, so we can successfully conduct counterterrorism operations and enable the train, advise, and assist campaign with our Afghan partners. America is safer because of you.”
Sears’ replacement, Brig. Gen. Craig Baker, took command of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing during a change of command ceremony June 3, 2017, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Baker is a command pilot with more than 2,600 flying hours and has commanded at the Squadron and Wing level.
In 2015 USAF Col. James R. Sears, Jr., was nominated for appointment to the grade of brigadier general as announced by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. At that time Sears was serving as the director for assignments and air expeditionary force operations, Air Force Personnel Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, TX.
This promotion is one of many during a distinguished military career.
Prior to his current assignment Sears was the 14th Flying Training Wing Commander where he led more than 3,000 Airmen and civilians in conducting Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training for US Air Force and allied officers. The wing possessed the largest fleet of aircraft in the Air Force inventory with 222 aircraft and produced more than one-third of all USAF pilots.
Colonel Sears was commissioned in 1991 as a graduate from the United States Air Force Academy. He has commanded at multiple levels and held staff assignments at Pacific Air Forces and U.S. European Command. He is a command pilot with over 3,200 flight hours and operational experience from C-130 low level special operations to every conventional mission in the F-16.
In 2003 he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism after successfully leading an 11.3 hour combat search and rescue that resulted in the safe recovery of seven US Marines in a downed helicopter in Afghanistan.
Brig. Gen. Sears and his wife, Vikki, have two daughters. His father, Jim Sr., and wife Gina, live in Arizona. The elder Sears owned and operated Pill Box Pharmacy, once located on the east side of the Gallatin business square, for several years.
The following career milestones were current for Brig. Gen. Jim Sears, Jr., as of August, 2014:
- 1991 Bachelor of Science in Political Science, United States Air Force Academy 1997 Master of Arts in Human Resource Development, Webster University
- 1998 Squadron Officer School, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
- 2003 Air Command and Staff College, by correspondence
- 2005 Air War College, by correspondence
- 2006 Master of Science in Joint Campaign Planning and Strategy, Joint Advanced Warfighting School, National Defense University
- 2011 Leadership Development Program, Center for Creative Leadership
- 2012 Executive Leadership Development Program, Darden School of Business, University of VirginiaASSIGNMENTS
- August 1991 – September 1992, Student, Undergraduate Pilot Training, Williams AFB, Ariz.
- October 1992 – January 1993, Student, C-130 Replacement Training Unit, Little Rock AFB, Ark.
- January 1993 – December 1995, C-130 Aircraft Commander, Special Operations Low-Level II Pilot, and mission scheduler, 40th and 41st Airlift Squadrons, Pope AFB, N.C.
- December 1995 – March 1998, assistant chief of standardization and evaluation, T-3A Instructor Pilot and Flight Examiner, 557th Flying Training Squadron, United States Air Force Academy, Colo.
- April 1998 – Jun 1999, Student, F-16 Replacement Training Unit, Luke AFB, Ariz.
- July 1999 – April 2002, Wing Training and Life Support Officer, Flight Commander, and F-16 Mission Commander, 18th Fighter Squadron, Eielson AFB, Alaska
- May 2002 – April 2003, Assistant Director of Operations, F-16 Instructor Pilot and Flight Examiner, 35th Fighter Squadron, Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea
- April 2003 – June 2005, Deputy Director, Pacific Air Forces Commander’s Action Group, Hickam AFB, Hawaii
- July 2005 – June 2006, Senior Developmental Education Student, Joint Advanced Warfighting School, Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va.
July 2006 – July 2007, Chief of Wing Safety, 56th Fighter Wing, Luke AFB, Ariz.
- July 2007 – October 2008, Commander, 61st Fighter Squadron, Luke AFB, Ariz.
- October 2008 – August 2010, Special Assistant to the SACEUR and Commander, USEUCOM, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe, Belgium
- August 2010 – June 2012, Commander, 20th Operations Group, Shaw AFB, S.C.
- June 2012 – July 2014, Commander, 14th Flying Training Wing, Columbus AFB, Miss.
- July 2014 – Present, Director of Assignments and AEF Operations, Headquarters Air Force Personnel Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Tex.
Rating: Command Pilot
Flight hours: More than 3200
Aircraft flown: C-130E, T-3A, F-16 blocks 25-50, and T-38C
MAJOR AWARDS AND DECORATIONS:
Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters
Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters
Aerial Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster
Air Force Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters
EFFECTIVE DATES OF PROMOTION:
Second Lieutenant May 29, 1991
First Lieutenant May 29, 1993
Captain May 29, 1995
Major April 1, 2002
Lieutenant Colonel March 1, 2006
Colonel October 1, 2009
Air Force Brig. Gen. Jim Sears, who commanded the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan for 12 months, returned home to the United States on June 4, 2017. The 455th AEW is considered as the premier counterterrorism air mission in Afghanistan. These photos are of the Commander’s final flight patrolling the skies with his wingman, engaging enemy ground forces from above to support coalition and Afghan troops. Sears is a command pilot with more than 3,200 flying hours, including combat missions over Iraq and Afphanistan. Also shown below are photos taken during nomination ceremonies for appointment to the grade of brigadier general.
Awarded for actions during the Global War on Terror
General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Central Command Air Force (USCENTAF), Special Orders G-334 (August 21, 2002)
Action Date: January 20, 2002
Service: U.S. Air Force
Company: 18th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat “V” to Captain James R. Sears, Jr., United States Air Force, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as F-16CG flight lead, 18th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron on 20 January 2002.
Captain Sears distinguished himself as On Scene Commander for a downed CH-53 in a heavily defended area of Taliban control in Northern Afghanistan during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. During the Combat Search and Rescue he organized, directed, and controlled a total of 13 aircraft including three Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, five helicopters, one C-130, two F-16s, and two F-18s. He rapidly developed a deconfliction plan that ensured the safety of all assets and allowed them to operate within a five nautical mile radius of the downed helicopter. After receiving the initial coordinates of the crash site he realized they were over one nautical mile off the actual location in heavily mountainous terrain.
After a diligent, methodical search of the area, Captain Sears was able to get his eyes on the site, provide a perfect talk-on for his wingman, and direct the other support assets to the crash site. Using on-board sensors, Captain Sears was quickly able to pass updated coordinates to the thousandth of a degree to command and control agencies without compromising the safety of the entire rescue operation. He expertly sanitized the 60 nautical mile ingress and egress route through enemy territory.
Captain Sears then executed the demanding task of rescue escort for two helicopters. This involved maintaining visual contact and constant coverage while flying over 300 knots faster and being 15,000 feet higher than the helicopters. Captain Sears, in conjunction with command and control assets, coordinated a plan to move three separate tankers close enough to the crash site to ensure constant command for the entire time on scene.
Captain Sears’ flawless flight leadership allowed him to intercept and visually identify a Red Cross aircraft flying in the vicinity of the downed helicopter, not identifiable by electronic means or talking to command and control assets, ensuring the safety of the entire rescue effort. Captain Sears passed off On Scene Commander duties to two United States Navy F-18s after 4.5 hours on scene.
Captain Sears’ tireless efforts and tremendous focus was unprecedented considering in his single-seat F-16 he flew more than 3500 miles, logged 11.1 hours, and ten air refuelings requiring more than 120,000 pounds of fuel to be onloaded through hostile territory. Captain Sears’ courage, superior airmanship, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of personal danger were instrumental in accomplishing this hazardous mission and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force.