When the U.S. military implemented Operation Enduring Freedom in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the officer put in charge to command air operations of the Afghanistan invasion was Lt. Gen. Chuck Wald from Minot, N.D.

Many North Dakotans were familiar with Wald — not because of his military leadership, which was impressive, but because of his performances on the football field. In his four years at North Dakota State University, the teams that Wald played on never lost a game. In his third game on the varsity Bison football team, he set a school record with 13 receptions, a record he now shares with Charles Weist who, in a game in 2001, also had 13 receptions.

In 1971, Wald was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League, but because of his commitment to the U.S. Air Force, he was unable to join the team. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and, after pilot training, was sent to Vietnam where he served in combat as a forward air controller. Wald remained in Vietnam for the duration of America's involvement, and returned to the U.S. in 1973 to become a pilot instructor for the Air Force.

Wald spent the next 20 years as an airplane instructor and flight commander and, at the same time, pursued an education in military leadership, international relations and counterterrorism. In 1985, he began his association with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and, when NATO became involved in the Bosnian War, Wald served as commander of America's first military operation to fly combat missions in that country.

At the conclusion of the war, Wald was appointed brigadier general and assigned to the Pentagon, eventually becoming director of the Strategic Planning and Policy Division. Wald was in the Pentagon on 9/11 when that structure was hit by a hijacked passenger airplane. As commander of the U.S. Central Command Air Forces, Wald and his deputies were put in charge of developing an air war strategy in Afghanistan and, on Sept. 20, he left for the Middle East to begin implementation of that mission.

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With the conclusion of American involvement in Vietnam, Wald returned to the U.S. He attended Squadron Officer School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., and, after graduation, he was promoted to captain. Wald was stationed at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Calif., to serve as a project officer for the Operations Systems Engineering Branch.

In August 1978, Wald's next assignment was to be an F-15A aircraft instructor and flight commander for the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Bitburg Air Base in West Germany and, on Oct. 24, 1980, he was promoted to major. In 1981, he was inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame.

In August 1981, Wald returned to Maxwell AFB to attend the Air Command and Staff College, an intermediate level professional military school "geared toward teaching the skills necessary for air and space operations in support of a joint campaign." While there, he also completed his master of political science degree for international relations from Troy State University in Montgomery. Troy State had a satellite site at Maxwell where Air Force personnel could pursue an academic education.

In September of 1982, Wald was assigned as flight commander and operations officer for the 71st Tactical Fighter Squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va. Then, in August 1985, Wald became involved in developing strategy for NATO at the Pentagon. In 1986, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and, while in Washington, attended the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair.

He then became assistant executive officer to the Air Force Chief of Staff and, in the early 1990s, Wald was promoted to colonel and sent to the Ramstein Air Base in Germany to serve as commander of the 86th Operations Group. The group was newly reactivated, and its purpose was to train and fly tactical air missions for NATO.

One of Wald's chief concerns was the 1992 break-up of Yugoslavia into five republics: Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia, each containing a number of different ethnicities. Conflict soon arose between the different ethnic groups, and when open hostilities began, NATO implemented Operation Deny Flight in which Serbian aircraft were forbidden to fly over Bosnian territory.

In March 1993, Wald was named deputy chief of staff of this operation. Serbia ignored the warnings not to fly over Bosnia, consequently, the 86th shot down some of its aircraft. When hostilities intensified, particularly the massacre of Bosnian Muslims, NATO declared Operation Deliberate Force, and Wald was named director of operations and became commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, stationed at the Aviano Air Base in Italy.

On Aug. 30, 1995, he led one of the first NATO combat operations in Bosnia when the 31st Fighter Wing bombed and destroyed a Bosnian ammunition depot. Peace negotiations were drawn up a couple of months later, and hostilities ended.

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Wald was promoted to brigadier general on Feb. 1, 1996, and remained at Aviano as commander of the 31st. In July 1997, he returned to the Pentagon in Washington to serve as special assistant to the chief of staff for national defense review. In January 1998, Wald was named director of strategic planning and policy for the U.S. Air Force, and he was promoted to major general on Sept. 1, 1998.

The following month, Wald was named vice director for strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, in January 2000, he became commander of the 9th Air Force at Fort Shaw Air Force Base, located 8 miles west-northwest of Sumter, S.C. Shaw was the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command of Air Forces (CENTAF).

Lt. Gen. Chuck Wald as seen in his 2006 U.S. Air Force official photo. Public Domain / Special to The Forum
Lt. Gen. Chuck Wald as seen in his 2006 U.S. Air Force official photo. Public Domain / Special to The Forum

One of the major duties of the 9th Air Force was to "enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq." On Sept. 11, 2001, Wald was conducting business at the Pentagon when the building was hit by a commercial airplane that had been hijacked by terrorists. He said, "My reaction was, first of all, unbelievable, shocked that something that unbelievable could happen. No. 2 is knowing that there was going to be a military reaction." Wald said he also experienced "a lot of anger."

It was decided the military reaction would be called Operation Enduring Freedom and it would be largely up to Wald and his deputies to formulate an air plan of action against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Wald then hurried back to Fort Shaw to work on an aerial plan for Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the State Department demanded that the Taliban turn Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, over to the U.S., but the Taliban refused. On Sept. 20, Wahl departed Shaw Fort with some of his key deputies and flew to the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, where the Combined Air Operation Center for NATO was located.

On Oct. 7, bombings and airstrikes on al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan began. Operation Enduring Freedom was the official name used by the U.S. government for the global war on terror. On Oct. 7, 2001, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush announced that airstrikes targeting al-Qaida and the Taliban had begun in Afghanistan, marking the start of a war that would last 20 years.

We will conclude the Chuck Wald story next week.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.