May 8, 2014 Updated: May 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm
Col. Stephen Williams, a fighter pilot and 1989 Air Force Academy graduate, will be the school's next commandant of cadets, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
Williams will take command of the school's 4,000 cadets this summer when Maj. Gen. Gregory Lengyel leaves the position to take a new job as head of American special operations troops in Europe.
With the new job, Williams will pin on one-star rank.
The commandant is in charge of military training and discipline for cadets at the academy.
On the job since 2012, Lengyel worked to transform the academy's basic training philosophy. The grueling training was once used to eliminate cadets. Now, the upperclass cadets who serve as training instructors complete drills and pushups alongside their freshmen charges and the dropout rate for basic training has dropped precipitously, hitting a 60-year-low in 2013.
Lengyel was promoted Friday in anticipation of his move.
A helicopter pilot, Lengyel spent most of his career in the Air Force's branch of special operations. Before coming to the academy, he led the 1st Special Operations Wing, including a tour in Iraq.
Williams is now the commander of the Japan-based 35th Fighter Wing. He's flown F-16 fighters since 1990, including 260 hours in combat.
He earned the coveted McKay Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association in 2007 for his role in a bombing mission into Afghanistan that hit key Taliban targets with a new airburst bomb.
"With a two minute time-on-target window over 2,100 miles from their home base, the flight's expertise guaranteed delivery of the weapons and successful destruction of 15 entrenched enemy fighting positions, clearing the way for ground forces to raid a high-level Taliban meeting," the association said in a news release.
A top engineering graduate from the academy, Williams' later career has branched into new fields. In 2009, he served as a high-level planner for the Pentagon's burgeoning computer warfare efforts.
He's been awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal.