Integrity is a critical leadership quality to United States Air Force Gen. Bruce Carlson.
"When you're doing the kinds of things I've had to do in some of the environments I've had to do them in, the gospel provides the foundation for everything," he said.
Brother Carlson, a four-star general, relinquished command of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio on Nov. 21 and is retiring from the Air Force after more than 37 years of service.
"If you allow yourself to believe that you are an officer during the week and a Church member on the weekends, you're going to get yourself in trouble," he said. "If you just decide you're an active Latter-day Saint, are trying to work your way back home and you just happen to be serving in the military, you'll get along just fine. The gospel has to be your life."
The Air Force Association recognized Gen. Carlson's integrity and leadership with its 2008 H.H. Arnold Award in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17. The award, named after the founding father of the Air Force, is given for the most significant contribution by a military member for national defense.
"He was taken aback that they chose him," his wife, Vicki Carlson, said of the award. Regarding his career, she added, "he has done it valiantly, nobly and as true to the faith as he possibly could."
Brother Carlson turns to the Book of Mormon, especially Alma 48, for examples in leadership. He said, "We are told about this young man who takes command of the army. It talks about his leadership and what he did to be faithful. That is some of the best reading in the world."
He bears testimony that the Book of Mormon is for our day. "It teaches us how to thrive and be happy in a world that may be falling apart."
His mother, Helen Carlson, said, "In these later years, Bruce has had an impressive office, job, and rank, but the thing that impresses me most are his well-worn scriptures sitting there on his desk."
Gen. Carlson has flown more than 3,700 hours in a variety of aircraft. He has served in staff assignments in Tactical Air Command, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, the offices of the secretary of the Air Force and secretary of defense, and as the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
The highlight of his career was commanding the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, the Air Force's first stealth fighter wing.
"There just simply isn't anything in the world like that," he said. "It's a remarkable thing to see how people work together on something that is moving ahead and bigger than themselves. You can see changes you've made happen. You're a part of people's lives."
Brother Carlson values people and personal communication. "Look people in the eye and tell them they're doing a good job," he said. "Tell them how much you appreciate them. Thank them for their efforts. Tell them how important the work that they are doing is."
Despite spending his career in a military environment with a rank system, Brother Carlson's humility and down-to-earth nature sets people at ease and helps them feel comfortable around him, which may be attributed to his small-town Minnesota upbringing and the example of his parents.
His father, Clifford Carlson, said, "When I am with Bruce, he doesn't expect people to open the door or carry his bag. They salute him, but they are first-name people to him. He displays an attitude that says, 'I'm one of you.' "
General Carlson was selected by noncommissioned officers at Air Force Materiel Command for induction into the Order of the Sword in 2007 for significant contribution to the enlisted corps. At that ceremony he said, "I had the greatest leadership lab that any young man could have in my father. I have often said, 'I've learned more from an ex-Air Force corporal about leadership than I've learned in the courses I've taken in the Air Force.' "
He currently serves on the military relations committee for the Church, along with other active duty or retired Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard representatives. Under the direction of General Authorities who advise and chair this committee, he said they have recommended ways to "buoy up the Church inside the military."
The Church has organized priesthood leadership in war settings, created deployable sacrament meeting kits, developed a program at BYU to train LDS chaplains and assigned senior missionary couples to strengthen military members and teach, baptize and retain new members at military recruiting and training depots.
This fall, Brother Carlson traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries and felt the reach of the restored gospel in the lives of military members serving worldwide.
He toured Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan on a Saturday. He had traveled for 10 days without being able to attend Church. He noted a small miracle that he ended up walking on a sidewalk next to one of four LDS members on the base of 3,500 people. As a result, the LDS chaplain arranged a 6 a.m. Sunday sacrament and testimony meeting for him to attend before he departed.