Lt. General Steven L. Kwast, Commander and President, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama
By Brenda Robertson Dennis
Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives. -Socrates
For Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, life has always moved at a pretty brisk pace, yet the things he lives his life by are surprisingly uncomplicated. Faith. Family. Freedom. The three F’s that sum up the motivation behind this A+ individual also stand as pillars shouldering his humble but high-achieving purpose.
A simple Google search will yield an impressive record of Kwast’s educational and military achievements. He was commissioned upon graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1986, and then went on to complete a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He earned his pilot wings in 1989 and has since acquired more than 3,300 flying hours, including more than 650 in combat, serving in operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Allied Force and Enduring Freedom. From 1997 to 1999, he served as military aide to the Vice President of the United States in Washington, D.C.
Kwast has held numerous Command posts and was Deputy Director of Politico-Military Affairs for Europe, NATO and Russia in Strategic Plans and Policy at the Pentagon between 2010 and 2012. His list of awards and decorations are lengthy and include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal and Air Force Achievement Medal. On November 10, 2014 Kwast was promoted to Lieutenant General. He currently serves as Commander and President of Air University at Maxwell AFB where he leads the intellectual and leadership center of the U.S. Air Force, as part of his many duties
In light of such an impressive resume, it might come as a surprise to learn that Kwast’s early education was not only non-traditional but by his own admission, a little lacking. Born in 1962 to missionaries, he spent the first 10 years of his life in Cameroon, West Africa, in a small tribe. He didn’t attend school but his mother tried to teach him while having her hands full with his two sisters. “I got away without much schooling, which was kind of nice.” says Kwast, who waxes nostalgic about the time he spent under the canopy of trees and vines that surrounded his home. “We went over there when I was less than a year old so I have no conscious memory of being an American expatriate. My Father wanted to go to a totally unspoiled area. It was a great way to grow up.”
It was under that canopy of trees in remote West Africa that Kwast discovered his love for flying. “Even in those early days, I loved to fly through the air by swinging on the vines,” he says. “I literally loved being airborne. When I found out that there were things called airplanes where you could actually hurl your body through the air, I was sold.”
While it does seem an idyllic childhood, playing Tarzan instead of having to perfect his spelling in a classroom every day, life was not easy. Cameroon was going through a political upheaval and lawlessness was rampant, putting the family in constant danger. “In the tribal areas of Cameroon there was not a lot of security,” Kwast recalls. “My father was taken at gunpoint by terrorists. I lived through a very insecure childhood where there was no governance that allowed people to live without fear.”
In 1972, the family was forced to return to the United States when the elder Kwast contracted malaria and dysentery, and would have died without western medicine. This was the young Kwast’s first taste of the blessings America had to offer. As he grew older, the years of living an unconventional childhood, swinging through the trees of West Africa, began to give way to an entirely new focus. “When I came here and saw what America had, I knew that I wanted to fly but I also wanted to be a part of the cadre that extends our freedoms. When I looked around, the one organization that did both was the United States Air Force.”
Today, one of the things that gives Kwast the greatest sense of fulfillment, in relation to his career, is his work in the Cyber War, specifically the efforts that have been made in the River Region during his tenure. “What the city has done is take the thinking of the Air University students that have studied how the world is changing because of IT and Cyber,” he says. “And what they discovered is that humanity is moving to a new place with regard to how quickly we can collaborate ideas and innovate our way into new solutions. If a community really wants to be vibrant and grow economically, they need to invest in this new way of collaborating. The City of Montgomery invested in an exchange that is tapping into the fiber optics that will connect them with the rest of the world, basically building the environment to be able to attract businesses and grow the economy of this area.”
As part of his efforts in the Cyber War, Kwast also works with movie makers like Steven Spielberg, along with other major producers, scriptwriters and futurists in Hollywood. “The reason I invest in a relationship with all of them is because I’m responsible for defending this nation and helping the American people see and visualize what we can do as a nation in order to protect our freedoms even better,” he says. “There’s no more powerful way of helping Americans see the future than by having movie makers paint them a picture of it.” Currently, there are four movies coming out in the next five years that Kwast has consulted on.
Throughout his career and the raising of his family whom he spends all of his free time with, faith has continued to play a vital role in Gen. Kwast’s life. His heroes, aside from his own father, were people from the Bible. One of them is King David, a bust of whom he keeps on his desk at work. “He [King David] was an imperfect man,” says Kwast. “But because he loved God, God could use him. I’m imperfect but I love my God and I hope that He can use me.” It is this thinking that prevents Kwast from making any plans that God might laugh at. When asked if he would ever consider running for President of the United States, something many local leaders have hinted would be a logical career choice for him, he replies “I’m not so arrogant as to think that I can make any plans unless God’s in it. God opens opportunity all over the place. My goal is to be prepared for any opportunity that God puts in front of me. It doesn’t matter if that’s being a ditch digger in California or President of the United States. It’s about being prepared so that someday God can say ‘well done, my good and faithful servant.’”