Major General Joel Carey
Season 6 - Episode 634
Major General Joel Carey serves as Director of Operations, Strategic Deterrence, and Nuclear Integration of the United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, based in Germany. This year, he was recognized as Baylor’s 2023 Alumnus of the Year. In this Baylor Connections, General Carey shares where Air Force service has led him and his family, looks back on his time as a Baylor student and football player, and examines the privilege of working with the men and women of the Air Force.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education research and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are visiting with Baylor's Alumnus of the Year, Major General Joel Carey. General Carey is a 1992 Baylor graduate who serves as Director of operations, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration of the United States Air Force in Europe, and Air Forces Africa. He's based in Germany. His Air Force service and leadership has taken him around the world and he's served in combat operations globally. General Carey played football and was a member of the Kappa Omega Tau Service Fraternity at Baylor before embarking on his Air Force career. And of course this year, he was honored as Baylor's 2023 Alumnus of the Year. General Carey, really appreciate your time and the chance to visit with you. Thanks so much for joining us on Baylor Connections today.
Major General Carey:Well, thanks for having me, Derek. Pleasure's mine.
Derek Smith:Well, we're excited to visit with you and as you and I chatted off the air briefly, it's a neat connection. Here in Waco, we're enjoying Welcome Week and move-in, and welcoming students to campus. As I'm visiting with you, you're in Germany right now, but I guess pieces of your heart are here in Waco, is that correct?
Major General Carey:Yeah, sure are. Our two youngest are undergrads there at Baylor, a rising senior and sophomore, and they were able to spend the summer with us here in Europe, but they've departed back to get ready for the semester. They're excited about it, and dad and mom are going through the transition of them leaving us for a little while.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, I hope it's a great experience for them and neat to hear they are following in your footsteps as we visit with General Joel Carey. And obviously, General Carey, when we talk about your career in the Air Force, you spent a great deal of your life flying, leading men and women, serving who are about to fly. Tell us about what the sky means to you. What is it about the sky that's drawn to you and do you feel the same way? Does it give you the same feelings when you think about it now, many years into your career?
Major General Carey:That's a great question. Things about it that interested me when I was a young boy, a lot of that is still there. Imagination and just the fascination with flight. I think that doesn't leave you even, as you go through the years of training, it takes to become a pilot in the Air Force. I think most will admit that amid the work, they're still able to sneak a peek out the window, if you will, and enjoy what they're doing. And it's always going to be a part of me, something I think I'm always going to love doing, even after all these many years as being part of the profession.
Derek Smith:General Carey, you mentioned as a boy, being fascinated by flight. When did you first know specifically that the Air Force was your calling?
Major General Carey:I had, of course, my father, who was also a Baylor grad by the way, from the early '60s. He was in the Air Force and transitioned out before I came along. And then his older brother, my uncle, made a career out of it and he was still active duty as I was a young boy and we would visit and heard stories of his time as he was a pilot in the Air Force. And then I had other family friends that exposed me to it and times that we had visited family up in Northern Virginia and Washington DC, I spent as much time as my parents would let me in the Air and Space Museum. And it's just from when I was probably nine or 10 years old, that interest was there. And then as I got later in high school and was thinking about what I wanted to do in college, Air Force ROTC was something I started looking at. And as I learned more, applied, and entered into the program as I started there at Baylor and it took hold from there. And then had opportunity as I was approaching graduation, to get a slot into undergraduate pilot training, which I did about a year after I graduated from Baylor, and we're off and running from there.
Derek Smith:Wow. So for a long time you've known that you were moving towards a career in this, and then in the midst of that you came to Baylor as a student. I think you just gave us a little sneak preview, but tell us about you as a student. If we were to follow you around to your class or your activities, mentioned you were a student athlete as well. What are some of the places we might have found you when you were here on campus?
Major General Carey:Well, there's probably an answer I would've given my mom and dad back during the day, and the more truthful version I give you now.
Derek Smith:Always in the library studying.
Major General Carey:Exactly. Well, Penland was my dorm my freshman year. I can't remember what room, it was on the first floor of Penland, and hanging out with a lot of close friends I still have to this day, that I met that freshman year in the dorm. And then my years while I was playing football, the day was fairly scripted. I would get up and had all early classes and would finish those and go to the stadium for meetings or workouts and practice and come back to eat dinner, and then studying. And then when it wasn't in the middle of the season, there's a little more flexibility there. And as you mentioned, I got involved with other activities and clubs on campus and between the Baptist Student Union and KOT, that we were able to do some other things around the community. But after my freshman year on campus, my roommates that I had for the remaining years and various apartments through Waco, we were always center of activity, tended to be somewhere close to campus and a lot of fond memories of that.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Major General Joel Carey on Baylor Connections. And General Carey, you mentioned playing football, played for Grant Teaff. How did that experience impact you and does it have an impact on your leadership today in any way?
Major General Carey:I think it had a lot of impact, as did I played sports as a young kid and had an opportunity to play with Coach Teaff and his team at the time, what was called an invited walk-on. So they were out of scholarships to give for the position I played, but they asked me to come on at the time, and I grew so much during that. It was challenging physically and mentally and emotionally as you compete as part of a team. But I think what impacted me as much as anything is the character of that coaching staff and a lot of that centered from Coach Teaff and the men and the support team, men and women that were on the support team with Baylor Football back then. And I think in the culture that he cultivated and insisted upon, the accountability that was part of that, the high standards of character and just the investment in the development of young men was very evident. And I think looking back, it's even more evident to me as the years go by. And how does that translate into leadership into the Air Force? I think a lot of those things they do, they transfer. And we count on a lot of high performing individuals and a lot of very diverse backgrounds and skill sets, but we can't do anything without a team. And so, you got to be a team, a good teammate, you got to work in ways that build a team and really keep that team approach at the forefront of your thinking and engagement with airmen every day.
Derek Smith:That's great. I talk about your leadership in your current role, but it's really a life of service that you and your family alongside you have led, three decades in the Air Force as we mentioned. You're in Germany now, but where are some of the places that Air Force Service has taken you and your family, whether that be literal geographic places or just situations and opportunities that have been meaningful to you?
Major General Carey:Sure. Well, after I left my hometown of Midlothian, Texas just up, south of Dallas-Fort Worth, and went on active duty, my first assignment to start pilot training was along the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas at Laughlin Air Force Base. And I was married shortly thereafter, and she joined me for that first year. And it was a busy year. It was a tough year going through that training experience. And then we moved from there to New Mexico for our next assignment, our first operational assignment. And then from there we had various moves that went from Florida to Okinawa, Japan back to Florida. This is our second time in Germany. And then prior to this, we were in Okinawa in our last assignment there, which was our third time over in Japan. And then along the way, not with the family, but various deployments including a couple of stints in Afghanistan have been part of our journey. And it's given us a lot of opportunities we're incredibly thankful for, exposure to different places and cultures and just the benefit that brings. And it's also been tough, because we've missed a lot of family events back with family and loved ones back in the states, that we just don't get to see as much as we would like to. But it's been a lot of fun to see God's hand in it along the way and just seeing our kids grow up in that environment with the challenges that they've gone through and multiple school changes through the years, including prior to their 12th grade year as well, moving schools. So that brings some challenge, but I think it's also helped them just work on getting acclimated quickly when we move to a new location and the value in jumping in and investing and not wasting time when you're becoming part of a new community. So there are some things that have worked along the way, I think to their benefit, but there've been a lot of challenges as well that have come with it.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Baylor's 2023 Alumnus of the year, Major General Joel Carey, Director of Operations, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration of the United States Air Force in Europe, and Air Forces Africa, based in Germany as we visit with him today. And General Carey, let's talk a little bit more now about your current role. What all does that, and when I give that title, it's a long title that only gives us a glimpse of what you do. So could you tell us a little bit more about what your current role there in Germany entails?
Major General Carey:Sure. I am part of the US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa staff, which supports the commander of those organizations, which is General Jim Hecker, and his staff that helps him each day and being the lead airman for planning and preparing and employing with air power throughout Europe and Africa. And it goes actually beyond those two regions as we'll extend and cooperate with activities in the Middle East and other places, to include the Pacific. But what I do in my role is anything that has to do with those operations, whether it's getting the forces prepared or giving them the direction to, and clear direction on how they're to plan and operate for, whether it's impending crisis in Sudan or in preparations for when we thought that Russia might invade Ukraine. Well then what do we do in preparation for that, and then after, is all what General Hecker and his team are involved with. And so, I support him as lead and operations and I've got a fantastic team of about 1,000 people that are helping me with that each day. But it's 24/7, 365 business and anything that's from a crisis to preparing for and hopefully deterring any conflict, airpower is going to be a part of that. So our team stays busy across those different mission sets,
Derek Smith:General Carey, you've been doing this a while, there's a lot of institutional knowledge built up from various experiences, but I'm curious, as you describe some of these situations and challenges in such a wide swath of the world. What do you have to do, what's required of you to make sure that when you're making decisions, you feel like you have all the information you need, that you're effectively prepared and then effectively ready to share that with the people who you serve alongside?
Major General Carey:I think that goes back to our discussion about the value of teams and team building. And I think we count on developing leaders and putting them in positions that have an educational background, a set of experiences and an aptitude for a decision-making position. But any successful leader that I've been around has invested heavily in assembling the team around them, and in a way that is oriented to the mission that they're given and the tasks that they foresee as part of that job, but also there's a diversity where individuals can cover where they might not be as experienced. So I think as we go through, as we're attempting to be as proactive as we can and planning for the future, we've got to have those inputs, those diverse inputs and an environment of professional and healthy descent as we go forward. And then there's always the factor of time. If you had all the time in the world to make a decision, theoretically, you'd continue to improve on that decision. But that's just not the reality of what we do. And we will practice and work through planning for those longer range efforts. And then we also will exercise and train to, as a staff, different scenarios that might have a much shorter fuse that we've got to prepare to employ air power as part of an overall joint approach to a problem when the Department of Defense is called upon. And that team will work through. And we've got different processes and manners that we go about problem solving and coming up with decisions. And then there's always the element when, in shades of gray, where some you do have a little bit of gut judgment that is involved with it. And most of these decisions, we tend to be as methodical as possible, just because of the stakes that are part of the decision
Derek Smith:General Carey, you paint a great picture of working with your team. Could you tell us what you enjoy most about working with the men and women with whom you serve, the people on that team? What do you enjoy most about that environment of the people you get to serve with?
Major General Carey:Well, first of all, they're from many parts of the states. They've got a lot of just diverse backgrounds. They've got a heart of service and are just the consummate professionals. And that is a blessing to me, and I know that and I'm very thankful for it. And I think you also just sense their desire to make a difference in their service. They feel that they're part of a relevant effort in trying to make the world a better place. And whether it's helping the thousands of Afghan refugees as they're fleeing Afghanistan, to trying to ensure that our Americans that were in Sudan in the middle of a conflict are safely evacuated, to ensuring that the war in Ukraine doesn't continue to grow into neighboring countries and impacting the NATO alliance any more than it already has. That all these things are what your airmen and our airmen are involved with every day. So they feel it. They're tired, because they've been working really hard, including this week, but you can see it in their eyes, they know it matters, and it reflects in how they approach the day. And I'm pretty proud to be part of that team.
Derek Smith:That's wonderful. Well, General Carey, as we head into the final moments of the program, my last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be Baylor's 2023 Alumnus of the Year? What did it mean to you when you found out and mean now?
Major General Carey:Derek, my first reaction was, "You got to be kidding me."
Derek Smith:Makes sense to the rest of us.
Major General Carey:I just know that, one very humbling and what an honor, because I know the caliber of people that are involved with that institution. And so, I guess humbling is probably honestly the first reaction, but the team was so gracious as they continued to convince me that it wasn't a spoofer email that I was receiving about it. And it gave me an opportunity to get back and have a reunion with a lot of people there at Baylor, including my family that still lives just north of Waco and Midlothian. But I'm proud to be associated, proud to be an alumnus, and we still try to get back as much as we can. And obviously with our two kids that are still going there, we believe in the values and the character of Baylor University and just happy to be part of that.
Derek Smith:Well, that's wonderful. General Carey, congratulations on the award. Thank you for your service and the service that those around you deliver to all of us back here in the States and around the world. We appreciate it and really appreciate your time today on the program. Thanks for making the effort to join us.
Major General Carey:Derek, you're very kind. I enjoyed talking with you.
Derek Smith:I enjoyed it as well. Thank you very much. Major General Joel Carey, Director of Operations, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration of the United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Force Africa, and of course Baylor's 2023 Alumnus of the Year, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.