AL ASAD, Iraq -- "No one dreams of a day such as this," said Brig. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr., commanding general of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) as he stood in front of his Marines and sailors during his promotion ceremony here at Al Asad air base, Iraq, Feb. 23.
Milstead, a Fort Sam Houston, Texas, native, became the first Marine officer in recent history to obtain the rank of brigadier general in a combat zone when Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Moore Jr., commanding general of the 2nd MAW and Pfc. Matthew B. Luna, the lowest ranking Marine in 2nd MAW(Fwd,) pinned his stars.
Milstead assumed command of the forward deployed air wing in September 2004, which is currently conducting aviation operations in support of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.
"I've known (him) for a long time and I am proud he came down to take the 2nd MAW forward," Moore said during his comments. "This is a tremendous day for him, his family and our Corps."
On an occasion normally marked with the attendance of family and loved ones, was promoted in his conference room surrounded by a different type of family.
"I have two great loves in my life," Milstead said. "The first is my wife and children, and the second great love is those young Marines I've been blessed to serve with throughout my career. (My family) could not be here, so what better than to have the second love of my life represented."
Representing the junior Marines was Luna, an embarkation specialist with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2, and a native of Franklin, Tenn.
Born on Nov. 10, 1951, Milstead graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Houston in 1974. He earned his commission as a second lieutenant through the Officer Candidate Course in March 1975. Upon graduating from the Basic School he went on to earn his designation as a Naval Aviator in Sept. 1976.
He spent the early part of his career serving as an AH-1J and AH-1T Cobra helicopter pilot with Marine Aircraft Group 16 at Marine Corps Air Field Camp Pendleton, Calif.
As he advanced through the ranks he attended several schools and courses including the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, U. S. Army Pathfinder School and Airborne Course -- all where he graduated with honors.
During the early 1990s, he participated in Operations Provide Comfort and Restore Hope in Turkey, Northern Iraq and Somalia.
Milstead returned to his first squadron Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 as the executive officer in May 1993, and later became the Vipers' commanding officer on Nov. 22, 1994.
Relinquishing command in June 1996, he was transferred to Washington, D.C., to attend the National War College where he graduated with a Master of Science in National Security Strategy in June, 1997.
After graduating Milstead served a tour at the Pentagon and spent two years as the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 29 at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. Prior to assuming command of the 2nd MAW (Fwd) he served as the chief of staff for the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism.)
"I was preparing to retire when I was asked to take the 2nd MAW forward," Milstead said. "Being selected for promotion is special, but to be promoted in a combat zone, leading Marines takes it to a different level. Not because it's a promotion to the general officer ranks, but because of the circumstances."
Although his wife, Suzanne, three daughters Christy, Melissa and Elizabeth, and son, Jimmy could not be present, Milstead said Marines and their families have always made sacrifices.
"Everyone over here is missing something," Milstead said. "We all miss our families terribly, but this is where we belong, because we are the Marines."