Ambassador to Saudi Arabia: Who is James B. Smith?
James B. Smith reportedly donated $3,300 to President Barack Obama’s election, but that’s not what got him the ambassadorship to Saudi Arabia. What put the former Air Force general in Obama’s good graces was his decision in 2008 to endorse Obama at a time when the upstart Democrat was still trying to prove his national security credentials against his challenger, Hillary Clinton.
For six months starting in October 1979, Smith received training on how to fly what was then the Air Force’s new tactical fighter, the F-15 Eagle. Upon completing his training, he was assigned to the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Camp New Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
From March 1982 to June 1984, Smith served as a training division staff officer, and later as executive officer serving under the deputy chief of staff for operations at the USAF headquarters in Europe, located at Ramstein Air Base in West Germany. He was promoted to the rank of major at this time.
His rise through the ranks continued in May 1987, making lieutenant colonel, and the following month, he was sent to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to serve as special assistant to the deputy chief of staff for operations for Headquarters Tactical Air Command. Five months later Smith became the operations officer for the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, and in August 1989 he received his first command, taking over Langley’s 94th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Smith was made assistant deputy commander for operations of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at Langley, and then was given the same post for the 4404th Provisional Wing stationed at Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia. He flew several combat sorties during Desert Storm, giving him more than 4,000 flying hours for his career including his time in F-15s and T-38s.
Two years later he was promoted to vice director for operations at Headquarters North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
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