Drowley shares lessons learned as military aviator with Class 19-01

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Col. Michael Drowley, 355th Fighter Wing commander at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, was the guest speaker at Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 19-01’s graduation, here.

Drowley spoke about leadership and the great impact every military aviator has on the world, explaining his perspective through stories as an A-10 Thunderbolt II attack pilot.

“My last combat sortie was on May 29, (2018),” Drowley said. “It’s always meaningful, especially when you hit a more senior position because you never know which one will be your last. It meant a lot to me personally. It was an amazing day, I got out there leading a two-ship and there was a small special operations outpost that had been coming under mortar fire”

He described trying to find where the mortar attacks were coming from and explained all the aircraft actively helping gather intelligence, gathering supplies for the operators under fire and providing eyes on target throughout the planning and attack process.

“For me it was a culmination of everything I had trained for,” he said. “We figured out where the strikes were coming from, we quickly put together an attack plan and then began putting ordinance on the enemy that was trying to hurt our friends on the ground.”

He had been refueled in mid-air thanks to a KC-135 Stratotanker who rejoined with them near the area of operation, they then returned to the fight, seeing a large group of enemies and requested a B-1 Lancer to bomb the threats.

“Everybody was safe,” Drowley said. “We had done what we had been trained to do. We came back and I realized that was the last combat sortie I’d get to fly and that’s the way I wanted it to be right there.”

After his mission Drowley landed at a different base and found a C-17 Globemaster III that was planning a mission that would end in the base he needed to return to.

They were to deliver materials to the location Drowley had just protected.

“So I get on the plane and what I see was just amazing,” Drowley said. “They were loading over 128,000 pounds of equipment to help the outpost build up its defenses. That’s why they were trying to make sure every detail of the mission planning was perfect because there was very little room for error. It was a short and austerior airfield and was at a high density altitude with weather moving in.”

Drowley watched and said he was impressed with everyone working on the mission.

They took off and it was night with A-10’s from Drowley’s squadron moving in around the weather. He was surrounded by crewmembers and loadmasters as well as the load being carried. Everything was dark and the pilots had their night vision goggles on to see the area of operations clearly.

“When you’re big and heavy and loud that attracts attention,” Drowley said. “As we’re coming in and breaking out of the clouds, I immediately see tracer fire coming toward the C-17 … now I’ve been shot at before … but I have not been shot at while in a C-17.”

He described how the crew decided to land regardless of the danger because the outpost needed the equipment and the pilots knew the outpost’s survival was almost dependent on this supply mission.

A-10’s immediately attacked the sites that were firing at the C-17 and B-1’s were in the area as well working to protect the cargo aircraft.

Drowley explained to the graduates in the crowd and the families behind them this experience made him think about the military aviation community lessons he has learned over his career so far.

“Embrace this culture you are now a part of,” he said. “You are disciplined to the ‘T’, you will look at your training officers, you will follow them, you will study them, yet you will know when to take risks and push back in order to do the right thing no matter if its written somewhere or not. You will follow orders into harm’s way without question to save someone’s life.”

He told 19-01 they will be a part of this pilot culture forever explaining how they will be deadly serious during work, but have fun when they are out of the office. He asked them to embrace this and understand they are automatically taking responsibility as leaders in numerous ways.

He told the students after this graduation they will become informal leaders, direct supervisors, aircraft commanders, mission commanders and commissioned officers in the U.S. Air Force.

“This is your first family you will be a part of,” Drowley said. “I ask you to never forget to take a second and see what it is you are doing and what’s around you. Don’t end up, after a 20- or 30-year career, not realizing how amazing what you’ve done really is.”

Ending his speech he looked to the students directly, making sure to see each one before his sentence finished.

“Thank you for everything you have done to this point and thank you for what you are all about to do because there is an amazing world ahead of you,” Drowley said.