A1C to Lt. Col. returns to Fairchild as squadron commander

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nicolo J. Daniello
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"If you asked me when I left this base 23 years ago,  'Hey, do you think you'll be showing back up at Fairchild to be a squadron commander?,' I would have said, 'Not a chance'," reflected  Lt. Col. Matt Coleman, the 92nd Air Refueling Wing chief of safety, soon to be commander of the 92nd Operations Support Squadron.

Coleman was fresh out of the Air Force's satellite commanding systems operator technical training school when he laid eyes on Fairchild for the first time in August 1990.

"You know how it is, your first duty assignment and not knowing what to expect," he said.  "I was your standard government issue, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, wet behind the ears two-striper just ready to tackle the world and see what I could get done."

Coleman evoked memories of how early in his career the flame for aviation burned hot.

"I absolutely loved what I was doing," he said. "I was doing stuff as an Airman that on the outside I would have to be an engineer to do. But I always had that flame in me for aviation."

While standing on the fence watching the planes perform touch and goes during his assignment at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, he had an epiphany.

"I just distinctly remember saying to myself, 'I wish I could do that. Well, wait a minute, why can't I,' Coleman said. "That's when I realized that I shape my own destiny and if I wanted something, that I have to make it happen."
From that point on, Coleman hit the books and focused on school. Less than two years later, he was competitively selected for a two-year Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship and separated from the Air Force to follow his childhood dream of becoming an aviator.

"My transition from being an NCO to being a cadet didn't bother me in the slightest," he remarked.

The transition from cadet to officer, took a little getting used to because the jobs and responsibilities were much different compared to the jobs and responsibilities I once had as an NCO, Coleman said.

He said once he made it through pilot training and initial qualification on the KC-135 Stratotanker, his sense of purpose was restored.

"I was piloting an operational United States aircraft and my dream had been achieved at that point," Coleman said. "That awkward transition from NCO to officer was gone."

Coleman reminisced about when America was attacked on 9/11 recalling the nation's sense of urgency and a feeling of uncertainty.

"We were flying Noble Eagle missions over the nation's Capitol building," he said. "Who would have thought we'd be flying combat air patrol missions over our own nation? We all had that feeling of 'fear of the unknown' and that sense of pride in 'I'm up here in support and defense of our nation.' When I was at Fairchild in 1990, I never would have imagined I would be serving my nation in that capacity."

Over the course of Coleman's piloting career, he accumulated more than 1,000 flight hours during six deployments in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, flying both the KC-135 Stratotanker and the C-17 Globemaster III.

"I know now as a lieutenant colonel that it's not my job to be a line pilot anymore," Coleman remarked. "I wanted more out of life, I wasn't unhappy with what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to keep moving forward. I never would have envisioned that 23 years I would be coming back as a pilot getting ready to command a squadron for the United States Air Force."

Coleman remarks on the different mission Fairchild had during his first assignment here.

"Back then the flight line was still full of B-52H Stratofortresses in a post-Cold War America and a lot more facilities and people," Coleman said. "There was always something going on and it was amazing; you almost wouldn't recognize it now."

"When we first found out  we were coming to Fairchild, he was so excited," said Lt. Col. Carrie Coleman, his wife and 92nd Mission Support Group deputy commander. "While driving around the base he would point out the different buildings talking about what they used to be, he still looks at the areas and does a little sigh now and then."

Looking back when he was an Airman, Matt shares some words of advice to Airmen and reminds them to think of their goals and the future.

"When I was here as a two striper, it was my first time away from home," he said. "I enjoyed my new freedom more than I was thinking about the future and wish I would have thought to focus on school more than I did earlier."

You are the biggest limiting factor in your life, he said. 

"If you want something you have to work for it, but don't be afraid of failure because if you fail that's how you learn," Matt said. "That's how you keep from making the same mistakes and how you keep moving forward."

He also applauded those who choose to serve in the United States military.

"If you choose to make a career out of the military, that is awesome. If you choose to do your four or six years and move on, I personally salute you," Coleman said. "You have done more for your country than most have done for their country their entire lives and be proud of what you've done. Know that you've made something better and then go on to the next challenge."

"Enjoy yourself. Work hard, play hard," he continued. "But don't put off until later what you can do now."