FILE: Brig. Gen. Michael Conley, addresses Air Commandos during a promotion ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, June 8, 2020. (Airman 1st Class Blake Wiles/U.S. Air Force).

Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael E. Conley is poised to leapfrog from being a one-star general to three stars if he is confirmed as the new leader of Air Force Special Operations Command, or AFSOC.

If the Senate approves his nomination, Conley will be promoted straight from brigadier to lieutenant general, a practice that is relatively rare but not unheard of in the Air Force.

“Brig. Gen. Conley was nominated as the Air Force Special Operations commander because he is the most qualified officer with significant experience in special operations and integrating tactical units, joint operation centers and inter-agencies,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Task & Purpose.

AFSOC overseas nearly all of the Air Force’s special operations forces, which includes ground combat troops like tactical air control party and pararescue specialists, as well as a fleet of secretive airplanes like AC-130 gunships, CV-22 Ospreys and most of the military’s full-size reconnaissance and attack drones. 

Conley is a 1996 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a command pilot with more than 2,400 flight hours in a variety of aircraft including UH-1H/N and MH-53J/M helicopters along with MV-22 and CV-22B Ospreys, according to his official biography.

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His prior assignments include serving as commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida; director of strategy, plans, requirements, and programs at headquarters Air Mobility Command; and most recently as AFSOC’s director of operations. He got his first star in June 2020.

Conley’s awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, and Bronze Star Medal. He was also named 2005 Air Force Special Operations Command Pilot of the Year.

Conley’s nomination does not mark the first time that a one-star Air Force general has advanced directly to three stars, Stefanek noted. Some other examples include:

  • Brig. Gen. Richard C. Harding became a lieutenant general in 2010 to become the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General.
  • Brig. Gen. Christopher F. Burne was promoted to lieutenant general in 2014 to also become The Judge Advocate General.
  • Brig. Gen. Caroline M. Miller being promoted to lieutenant general in 2022 to become deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services.

Two other one-star Air Force generals — S. Clinton Hinote and Dale R. White — were promoted to lieutenant general after serving for less than a month as major generals.

Should the Senate approve his nomination, Conley would replace Lt. Gen. Tony D. Bauernfeind, who has been tapped to become the U.S. Air Force Academy’s next superintendent. Bauernfeind took over as the commander of AFSOC in December 2022.

“Our general officer nominations are based on qualifications for the position,” Stefanek said. “Lt. Gen. Bauernfeind is the best-qualified person to serve as the United States Air Force Academy superintendent.”  

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