T-6 nation commanders lead future pilots by decorated example

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cassidy Fisher
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Vance Air Force Base has two T-6A Texan II flying squadrons, both led by officers who use their Air Force flying experiences to inspire and lead future aviators. 
Lt. Col. Nicholas Powers, former 33rd Flying Training Squadron commander and current 71st Operations Group deputy commander, and Lt. Col. Matthew Cichowski, 8th Flying Training Squadron commander, have commanded and led their squadrons through pilot training while recalling what it was like to be in the combat that earned both their medals.
Powers received a Bronze Star while deployed to Afghanistan and Cichowski received a Distinguished Flying Cross while in Syria and Iraq. 
Powers began his Air Force career when he enlisted in 1999. He was an imagery analyst at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. 
“I enlisted as a chance to get out of my hometown and learn how to be an adult,” Powers said. “The Air Force gave me a lot of opportunities and responsibilities and trust.” 
He was in his third year of enlistment and wanted a change. He decided to ask his senior enlisted leader for guidance on how to become an officer so he could become a pilot.
“I always gravitated to it,” Powers said. “I always liked airplanes and aviation, and that inspired me to give it a try.” 
Powers was accepted into the SOAR program -- Scholarships for Outstanding Airmen to attend Reserve Officer Training Corps. He attended the University of South Florida, earned his degree and his pilot slot. 

Soon after receiving his wings, Powers went on to fly the EC-130H Compass Call. 

On his last deployment to Afghanistan from May 2018 to May 2019, Powers served as the Director of Fixed Wing Operations at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, where he engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force. Through his leadership and personal endeavor, he earned a Bronze Star.

He brought his defined leadership style and lessons learned to the students within his squadron. 

“I was fortunate to always have leaders who set clear expectations, but were also nurturing, and the fact that if you made a mistake they wouldn’t hold it over your head,” Powers said. “I think it’s important to give people the space to learn and grow.” 

Similarly, Cichowski leads the 8th Flying Training Squadron by his own experiences. 

Cichowski started his Air Force career as a student pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base, Del Rio, Texas. At his assignment night, his flight commander pulled him aside and told him that he could get an F-16 Fighting Falcon that night, or wait three years for the possibility of an A-10C Thunderbolt II.

Cichowski had his heart set on being an A-10 pilot so he chose to be a First Assignment Instructor Pilot to get another chance to roll the dice on aircraft assignments.

Three years later, in 2010, he earned his A-10 assignment. 

Cichowski was later deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. 

“It was literally the last day we were flying for Operation Inherent Resolve in the A-10,” Cichowski said. “We showed up, and no kidding, had the expectation that nothing was going to happen.” 

According to a 2018 article from the 23rd Wing Public Affairs, “Cichowski was on a routinely scheduled combat mission Jan. 9, 2018, when he and his wingman were alerted by a JTAC to provide close-air-support for friendly forces who were taking fire. While successfully avoiding accurate surface-to-air fire, Cichowski led his wingman to strike enemy forces attempting to overrun friendly forces who were outnumbered 3-to-1.” 

Cichowski received the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his support for Operation Inherent Resolve in 2018. 

He utilizes his experiences to lead and inspire students. 

“Inside both T-6 squadrons, I am the only 11F coded pilot,” he said. “I initially started by giving an A-10 capabilities brief, but it wasn’t just that. It’s understanding that I was probably the only exposure that they were going to get to the fighter lifestyle.” 

Both commanders choose to lead the Air Force’s future aviators through their own personal experiences which have given them the awards and decorations to prove they are right for the job.