For many of us who’ve had family in the military, following in their footsteps may seem natural. However, what happens if we commit the cardinal sin of not joining the same branch as our parents or other family members?
Col. Nathan Mooney, 56th Mission Support Group commander, knows the answer. Though his father retired from the Army after spending time in the infantry and as a civil engineer, Mooney chose the Air Force.
“They rib me about that all the time,” Mooney said of the fact that he also had more than one uncle in the Army. “But they’re all proud of me. I’m proud of their service, and I wouldn’t be the officer I am now if it wasn’t for them.”
After doing junior ROTC in high school and commissioning through Air Force ROTC at Troy State University, the Selma, Ala., native assumed the role of a logistics readiness officer. It’s a fundamental role he’s held for most of his more than 23-year career.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said of working in logistics. “I started out as a log planner, so I had to know a little bit about everything, from transportation to fuels and supply, to wing operations and plans. From a very early age I learned not only logistics but it forced me to have to learn how the Air Force operates and how logistics support flying operations.”
Now he’s in a slightly different role. Mooney’s command includes six of Luke’s 24 squadrons, of which logistics is only one.
Fortunately he’s got experience working in unfamiliar territory. His Air Force career has included assignments in seven U.S. states and on three continents. He has also worked in the embassies of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and on top of that, holds three master’s degrees.
His group is unique too. Unlike other groups in the 56th Fighter Wing, the MSG’s capabilities are all over the map. The unit includes squadrons focusing on the base’s security, logistics, communications, contracting, engineering and force support which involves the services offered on base, among other things.
“The good thing I have as the MSG commander is that I can go talk to the defenders at the gate in the morning, then turn around and go to the child development center,” he said. “I get to see the scope of the wing and what it takes to make it run.”
Uniting a group with that wide an array of functions isn’t easy, but it’s one Mooney said he looks forward to every morning when he wakes up.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s one I enjoy each and every day,” he said. “You have to get the group to understand the bigger picture of how we fit into the mission. Bringing all those pieces and parts together so that people understand how they impact and help to influence and enable the overall wing mission is the biggest challenge I have as the group commander.”
Mooney’s plan to guide his team through the next two years revolves around the goals of the wing’s senior leadership. The points include focusing on the mission, developing leaders and connecting to the community.
“The MSG is a key enabler to ensure flying can continue, whether that involves logistically making sure the parts and the fuel are available for maintenance, or with contracting making sure we have the right contracts in place for the construction that’s going to go on,” he said. “With leadership, we have to grow leaders today to run the Air Force tomorrow regardless of what rank they are, in light of the changes that are coming from the strategic environment we live in, which is high ops tempo with budgetary and manning cuts – we have to do things differently.”
The communities on and off base are affected by Mooney’s team.
“We’re responsible for the facilities, so our job is to make sure the housing is good,” he said. “We also need to have activities for not just our active-duty, family and retiree communities, but activities (for) when people are working hard, they can take a break and enjoy themselves. At the same time, we need to let our retirees know we appreciate what they’ve done and make sure they know they can come home to Luke and get the resources they need.”
Leading an MSG in the Air Force’s largest fighter wing isn’t easy and Mooney said learning that he’d command the group seemed a little daunting at first. However, he later added that he views serving as a commander to be the best job in the Air Force, and he was “absolutely ecstatic” to find out he’d lead at that level.
Mooney said his experiences beyond logistics have helped him a lot in his career, especially in his current role. He encourages Airmen to step outside their comfort zone to grow as leaders.
“My path has been a little different in that I’ve had opportunities to step outside my career field and do some other things, especially working in the joint arena,” he said. “That seemed unique at the time, but in my opinion, that’s where we’re going as an Air Force.
“As we grow our folks, I encourage people to take on new opportunities. I always tell people, remain uncomfortable because that’s how you garner new tools to take on different situations. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. It helps you to learn and see things for yourself. Get out with your people and learn something new. As we do that, we become a better force and as individuals, we become better Airmen.”
Luckily for Mooney, his teammates are up to the task with taking on new challenges, he said.
“We have hard-charging folks, and I’m just amazed at their outstanding abilities and how they make it happen each and every day,” he said.