By Capt. Matthew Mutti, Wing Executive Staff Officer, 104FW
/ Published August 22, 2008
7/9/2008 -- In late June, the leadership of the Massachusetts Air National Guard announced the selection of the new 104th Fighter Wing Commander, Col Robert "LA" Brooks, the current Operations Group Commander from the 159th Fighter Wing, located near New Orleans Louisiana.
Before his arrival and assumption of command on August 23, I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Col. Brooks about his expectations, experiences and thoughts. I hope this conversation will help everyone learn a little more about the 104th Fighter Wing's future commander.
Capt Mutti (MM):
Sir, could you tell me a little about yourself, where are you from, where have you been, what have you done throughout your career?
Col LA Brooks (LA):
I was born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in a small town northeast of the city. My commissioning source was the ROTC program at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1987. I attended UPT (undergraduate pilot training) at Vance AFB, OK (aka the Garden of Enid). My first assignment was the 58 Tactical Fighter Squadron at Eglin AFB, FL. My timing was fortunate in that assignment as we deployed to Tabuk Air Base, Saudi Arabia for OPERATION Desert Shield and Storm. We probably had one of the most talented squadrons assembled in the F-15 community during that timeframe. Following Eglin I was assigned to the 1st Fighter Squadron, Tyndall AFB FL where I also attended F-15 Weapons Instructors Course (WIC). Following graduation from WIC I was assigned to the 27th Fighter Squadron, Langley AFB, VA. During this assignment, we were deployed to Saudi during the Khobar Tower bombing and moved and set up bare base operations at Al Kharge. I was fortunate at Eglin, Tyndall, and Langley to have great leadership during all of those assignments. After a tour at Langley I went back to teach at the Weapons School at Nellis AFB, NV. From a pure flying and teaching standpoint, Nellis was a great assignment. It was tough on the family life with the long hours, not to mention we moved out there with a ten month old and had two more children during that four year assignment. In 2001 I PCS'd to the 159th Fighter Wing as part of the LA ANG.
What made you decide to join the LA Guard...with a follow-on in Massachusetts?
We left active duty for several reasons, but mainly we wanted to be closer to both of our families. My family lives in North Alabama, and Aprile's family is in Hattiesburg, MS and Mandeville, LA. We also have a lot of college friends in the Hattiesburg and south MS area. We wanted our kids to be close to their families and Grand moms and Grand dads. Patrick is now eleven, Nathan is ten, and Laura Beth is seven.
As far as joining the 104th Fighter Wing and the Massachusetts ANG, it is just a great opportunity. I felt very humbled to be considered and selected for the job. The reputation of "Barnes A-10s" was something I had heard about for a few years. When we visited in April, I had the opportunity to meet with the group commanders and Wing Command Chief Reale. They each took me through their sections and back shops. It was very easy to sense the professionalism and pride throughout the organization. The people and unit reminded me a lot of the 159 Fighter Wing. I was also very impressed with the leadership team that is in place. I look forward to working with each one of them.
Aprile and the kids are excited as well and are ready to learn more about Massachusetts and the North in general with all of its rich history. We are looking forward to the opportunity to see and experience this part of the country along with some "chow-da" (said in his best Boston-draw).
What are your short term and long term goals...either professionally or personally?
First and foremost, accomplishing the goals and vision of the 104th Fighter Wing are my number one goals. The near term goals of the 104th FW are: 1) Complete the conversion to the Eagle in a safe, effective, and efficient manner. We cannot support our national missions until we are standing on solid ground in the F-15 community. 2) Stand up our Alert Force within the prescribed timeline to support our National Objectives within OPERATION Noble Eagle 3) Continuation Training and Unit Preparedness to support the Global War on Terror and any other national or state missions assigned. The uniqueness of the National Guard allows us to support civil authorities when required, whether it is responding to statewide emergencies or supporting Boston's Fourth of July celebration. The history of the state militia does not get any better than here in Massachusetts 4) Prepare for inspections in a manner which will set us up for success and an OUTSTANDING. Inspections are a fact of life and we will prepare with a positive attitude, do the right thing, and continue the tradition of the 104th FW. 5) Family Programs and Readiness; with the operational tempo of today's Air National Guard, we will continue to support all our personnel in their jobs, both on and off duty. If our 104th airmen know their family is being taken care of, then focusing on the Barnestormer mission comes easier with boots on the ground (or air) here at work. Just as my family ranks high on the personal side, I want our airmen to be able to take care of matters at home. All of our families have sacrificed, are Patriots, and deserve the best we can give them. 6) Community Relations; we will continue to support the local community with a continuous presence of the Air National Guard as a community partner.
These goals will be refined once I get fully on board and talk more in depth with the state leadership and group commanders.
Finally, in a broader context, my personal goal is to always do the right thing and what is best for the unit and the people of this unit. We will sometimes have limited resources and funding, so we all need to keep the big picture in mind and work as a team to accomplish our goals and vision. Speaking of vision, ours is to continue the Barnestormer tradition of being the best unit in the ANG in its respective platform. Today that platform is the F-15 Eagle. You all have set the standard in one platform, now let us set the standard in the F-15. I know we have strong leadership in both the Officer and NCO ranks, and I look forward to working with the men and women who established Barnes as the premier A-10 unit in the CAF.
On a personal note, do you have any favorite sports teams, because it's hard to be in Massachusetts and not route for the Celtics, Pats or Sox?:
Growing up in Alabama we did not have any real pro sports teams within the state to speak of. At the collegiate level, we will be pulling for the Alabama Crimson Tide. I have always pulled for the Boston Celtics since the days of Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson. This year we watched the NBA finals and were happy to see the Celtics win. I think our whole family is already becoming Red Sox and Patriots fans as well. I like how Coach Belichick emphasizes team over individual; it reminds me a lot of Coach Bryants and Sabans respective Alabama teams.
Is their anything you want to make sure the unit member's know about you?
I think the most important thing they know about me is I will always make every effort to properly lead and support the people who comprise the 104th FW and Massachusetts ANG. Without good people, the wing mission cannot move forward in a positive direction toward a common goal. It is important leaders take care of their people at every level. In turn, the people will take care of the mission. Also, leaders must do the right thing; otherwise your credibility begins to wane. For us to be the best F-15 unit in the ANG, we will not be able to cut corners or take short cuts. Simply put, we will have to do the right thing at the leadership level, and at all levels we will need to do things right. We will have to build a solid foundation with solid processes, techniques, and procedures. Once we gain experience in the platform, there may be valid shortcuts to get from point A to point B, but until we gain the experience we will stick with building the right foundation. The good news is you all know what it takes to be the best; however sometimes it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks (I have the t-shirt). I am asking everyone to be open-minded during the conversion, and realize Barnes has changed airframes at least eight times throughout our history.
The 104th FW leadership team that is in place already understands and recognizes all of these things. Recently, I spent a few days with Col Gwosch when he came down to New Orleans to see how the 159th Fighter Wing maintenance operates. We reviewed a few of the obstacles facing the 104th, and he is fully engaged in taking care of business, doing the right thing, and seeing to it we are doing things right. Our Intel officer owns an airboat, so we took him for a ride in the swamps of Louisiana. Due to some "bad Intel", we got stuck going through some of the marsh. Tony and I were knee deep in swamp marsh (after we had seen about fifteen alligators or so) pushing the boat out, when he finally asked if Southerners had anything against Northerners. I told him I did not but I could not speak for my Intel officer who was about forty yards up ahead still in the boat driving away from us for deeper water. All the group commanders and Wing Command Chief Reale are superb individuals and I look forward to working with them.
Our conversation ended in the same fashion it started, candid and real. His enthusiasm and excitement could be heard through every word he spoke. He is expected to arrive in Massachusetts in early August with an assumption of command on the 23rd.