1st SOW commander speaks to the Air Force’s newest aviators

  • Published
  • By Airman Davis Donaldson
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Col. Michael Conley, 1st Special Operations Wing commander from Hurlburt Field, Florida, spoke to graduates of Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 19-21/22 during their graduation ceremony Aug. 16 on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.

As a commander, Conley says he has high expectations for his officers and knows what hard work looks like. Out of about 100 graded officers at his wing, Conley said some are great aviators but poor officers, and others are great officers but poor aviators.

“First and foremost, focus on being a good Air Force officer,” Conley said. “We make you officers before we make you pilots. This is intentional.”

Conley said something that has been an important lesson for him throughout his career is patience. During the first four years of his commissioning service, Conley said he had a single National Defense Service ribbon he received as a cadet. Conley said he wanted to make a difference as a pilot, but lacked patience. A few years later, as a captain, Conley had the opportunity to fly in the first mission in Iraqi Freedom.

Since March of 2003, Conley said he has deployed across the globe and has had incredible opportunities, and wanted the new aviators to know that they too will have the same opportunities.

“Many of you will join squadrons that are teeming with legitimate war heroes,” Conley said. “You’ll look at their thick rack of ribbons or the awards sitting at their office or at their desk or at their house and you’ll think ‘I want some of those opportunities, when do I get mine?’”

Conley guaranteed the graduates glory if they are just patient and work hard. No generation of Americans have been spared from war so their time will come, he said.

Conley also talked about the importance of competence.

“Be the best at whatever we assign you to do and be competent. Competence is like currency, it can buy you trust and it can buy you credibility,” Conley said. “Trust and credibility open the door to opportunity and opportunity is what we’re all looking for, right?”

Some of the pilots have assignments and are going places that were not their first choice, Conley said. They need to get pass their incompetence and be the best at what the Air Force needs, he said.

“Whether it’s managing the snack bar, assisting in the scheduling shop or deploying to war, be the best at those tasks,” Conley said. “Competence is your currency.”

Conley said he invests in the officers that are competent in their current job. He said he knows barely any commander willing to bend over backward for pilots not competent with their current situation, choosing to be average.

Conley said at the end of the day the pilot’s competence is not just about them. They still have a job to do and many lives depend on it.

“Whether it’s passengers in the back of your plane, other crew members on your plane or on your wing or joint coalitions on the ground or in the combat zone, they rely on you to get them home,” Conley said.

Conley congratulated the graduates and gave one last motivating remark.

“We all have our own story to tell,” Conley said. “We all have our own story on how we got to this room today and we all have the opportunity to make our own stories when we leave here. I look forward to serving with each and every one of you and watching each one of you make the Air Force of tomorrow even better than the Air Force of today.”