The first thing to know about David Goldfein is that he’s the Jewish general whom Obama nominated to serve as chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. But there’s more.
1) Goldfein, who was born in 1959, was one of only two pilots who was shot down during a 1999 air campaign against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. He was forced to parachute into an open field in Serbia just after midnight, when his aircraft was hit by a missile. The general landed in a deep gorge and fell down face-first, “riding it like Indiana Jones down to the bottom,” he said. Luckily, the general was brought to safety by a search-and-rescue team.
2) The general has his own way of thanking the rescue crew. Every year, he sends the team a bottle of “single malt, good quality” Scotch, which they finish off together when Goldfein comes for a visit.
3) Goldfein is a third generation veteran. His grandfather served in the Navy during World War II and his father served for 33 years in the Air Force, including during the Vietnam War. His brother Stephen Goldfein also served in the Air Force.
4) His undergraduate degree is in philosophy from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
5) After two female airmen came under fire for being awarded Bronze Star awards for their non-combat service, Goldfein came to their defense. “No one Air Force Specialty Code is any more important than the next in this theater — it takes the entire team working together to get the job done,” he wrote in a letter defending the women.
6) Goldfein is married to his high school sweetheart, Dawn, who has been active in the Officers’ Spouses’ Club across the world. Together they have two daughters, one whom currently works in the Air Force and the other as a teacher.
7) Norton Schwartz served as Air Force chief of staff in 2008-2012, the first Jewish person to do so. The son of a typewriter salesman, Schwartz said he was “proud to be identified as Jewish as well as an American military leader.”
8) Jeremy Boorda served as chief of naval operations, the most senior officer in the U.S. Navy in 1994-1996. While the admiral was of Jewish heritage, he raised his children in his wife’s Christian faith. Boorda tragically took his own life, reportedly as a result of an investigation into him having worn service ribbons that he was not authorized to wear.
Josefin Dolsten is a news fellow at the Forward. She writes about politics and culture, and edits the Sisterhood blog. She received an MA in Jewish Studies and Comparative Religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a BA in Government from Cornell University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @josefindolsten.