President Obama nominated Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh to become the new Air Force chief of staff once Gen. Norton Schwartz retires this summer, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.

Welsh is currently commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and is responsible for an area of operations including 51 countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, according to an Air Force statement. Panetta said Welsh is a command pilot who’s flown more than 3,400 hours during the course of his career, including multiple combat missions during Operation Desert Storm.

“I believe (Welsh) has the right leadership qualities and distinguished background to follow his extraordinary predecessor, General Schwartz,” Panetta said.