A day in the life of a Vance squadron commander: Colonel commands 25th FTS 'Shooters'

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tony Wickman
  • Public Affairs
The culmination for many Air Force officers is getting the opportunity to become a squadron commander, and for Lt. Col. Nathan Hill it truly is a milestone.
Colonel Hill, a 17-year Air Force veteran, arrived at Vance in October 2004 to work first as the operations officer and then commander of the 25th Flying Training Squadron to train pilots for the combat air force, a position he has held since May 2005.
In his position of authority, the colonel is responsible for executing all activities pertaining to "The Shooters," including the successful accomplishment of all missions assigned in either training or war.
"I have two main duties," said the colonel. "I provide overall guidance to the squadron and take care of the people."
Day-to-day, Colonel Hill is responsible for more than 120 active-duty members, Reservists, students and a civilian, spread across four student flights, one check flight, one training flight and unit administration.
To a greater degree than other commanders, squadron commanders must be in touch with their people and know their individual characteristics and capacities, their degree of training, their morale and their discipline. It is a demanding job that requires 10- to 12-hour days at work and many more hours off duty dealing with social events, phone calls and thinking about what needs to be done next.
For Colonel Hill, a Cloquet, Minn., native, the job as a flying training squadron commander is both teacher and mentor.
"I am a teacher when I instruct students and when I deal with instructor pilots. I am the head flight evaluator and it is my job to make sure the IPs are teaching the right things at the right time to the students," the colonel said. "As for mentoring, people in the squadron are watching senior leaders at all levels to see how we do things. They will emulate the things they like and avoid the things they don't. I give them feedback, either direct or indirect, to help mentor them.
"The impact we have is building strong foundations. We want solid pilots and solid officers and Airmen," Colonel Hill said. "It is important to help them move on to the next step in their lives."
The biggest challenge for the colonel is trying to stay ahead.
"It is easy to get bogged down in an e-mail you just received 10 minutes ago, which sometimes means you aren't thinking ahead or planning ahead for the squadron," the colonel said. "Things you have to think of include: social events and hail and farewells, which impact morale; changes with airplanes; and staying ahead with every instructor's whole assignment track -- not just what they are going to do when they leave here, but what they are going to do while they are here."
These are all those things requiring you to think two to six months in advance so you can make smart choices, he said.
"Those choices will not only impact the individuals, but the squadron," said Colonel Hill.
The colonel, an F-16 pilot by trade, gets the opportunity to fly three to six times per week in a T-38C, usually 75 percent with students and the other 25 percent with IPs or doing check rides.
"When I fly with students, I think I owe them something different than say, a first assignment instructor pilot, would. I expect a FAIP to teach them everything they need to know about the airplane and what they need to know to pass a check ride," he said. "Although I do the same thing, I also try to pass along why we do things as it applies to the CAF. I try to use previous experience and pass it along ... give them a bigger picture."
Another responsibility of being squadron commander is knowing what other organizations on base can do for your unit, said Colonel Hill.
"When you first become a squadron commander, you learn what other organizations can do to help you. It is really the first time you learn what tools are out there to help you be a better squadron commander," the colonel said. "When you get to know other commanders on base, you can get things done for your unit."
The other successful part of being the squadron commander is the support of your family, Colonel Hill said, who married wife Barb 19 years ago, and has two sons, Luke, 13, and Tyler, 8.
"My wife is extremely critical to my success. Having a spouse who is whole-heartedly into it makes it easy ... she thinks ahead and helps me," said the colonel. "If the family is not happy, than the member is not happy. She does an awesome job and has great personality traits ... she is approachable and a real people person."
For Mrs. Hill, trying to meet the needs of the squadron and the family are the toughest challenges for her and her husband.
"It is important for us to look after the squadron and our family," Mrs. Hill said. "We juggle our family needs with our 'larger-scale family' needs."
But the challenge is part of the reward, according to Mrs. Hill.
"Every day there are so many things that are rewarding by having that 'extended family,'" she said. "There are many long-term friendships we have developed, and being involved with squadron member family issues like marriages and having babies are rewarding."
As for how Colonel Hill balances his duties between commander and father and husband, Mrs. Hill said he is an amazing man who does a great job.
"He uses his time wisely and sets his priorities," she said. "We lack for nothing as a family and he does a great job being a husband and raising two young men."
For Colonel Hill, the biggest reward being squadron commander is having a positive impact on the people and the Air Force.
"I want the average captain in the squadron to think that I did it the right way and wasn't extreme in either direction," he said. "I want people to think I didn't push an agenda so hard that I crushed morale or abandoned discipline ... and common sense always applied."
"I want to be remembered as a good Christian man, good family man, good officer and a good pilot, in that order," said the colonel.
According to Col. Bryan Benson, 71st Flying Training Wing commander, Colonel Hill is well on his way to meeting his goals.
"Colonel Hill is a true warrior who leads from the front. He understands the mission, works his bosses' priorities and balances work with family ... and has fun doing all of it," Colonel Benson said. "The Shooters have led or been near the top in every category under Lt. Col. Hill's leadership. Whether it's sports, squadron flying achievements or professional military education awards, Colonel Hill finds ways to motivate his Airmen to compete. He epitomizes our 'Fly-Fight-Win' mantra."
(Editor's note: This is the final of a four-part series detailing the rigors of student pilot training and those involved in it.)