As a child he always dreamed of being a pilot. Little did he know his dream would one day become a reality.
Retired Lt. Col. Rusty Mitchell, 56th Fighter Wing Community Initiatives Team director, served 22 years in the Air Force and retired not only as a pilot, but the first commander of the 21st Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base.
During his career Mitchell traveled around the world to places like England, South Korea, Colorado and more, flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II, then the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Toward the end of his career, Mitchell was selected for promotion to colonel but due to family priorities chose to decline and retired in 1998.
“The decision to retire was hard, especially with having a line number for colonel but at the time my kids were transitioning to high school, my wife Pat had a job she loved as a registered nurse and the New Parents Support Program director here at Luke, and we wanted to ensure we stayed in the Phoenix area,” he said.
After retirement, Mitchell found a job working for United Airlines as a commercial pilot and while he continued to fulfill his dream of being a pilot, he still missed the military way of life.
“It was a definite difference when I retired from the Air Force and became a civilian,” Mitchell said. “I missed the sense of purpose and the quality of individuals I worked with. You can’t get that on the outside.”
Five years after his retirement Mitchell received a surprising call from then Brig. Gen. Philip Breedlove. Due to the rapid growth of the communities surrounding Luke, Breedlove, the 56th Fighter Wing commander at the time, wanted to form a Community Initiatives Team, which he asked Mitchell to lead.
“He asked me to come back and run his new team,” Mitchell said. “I felt like I was coming home to family. I was back working with Airmen on a full-time basis, which is what I missed the most.”
Although Mitchell currently has a full-time position at Luke, he continues to fly commercial aircraft part time.
“I decided to keep flying because that has been my passion since childhood,” he said. “I work a flexible 40-hour week schedule at Luke while also flying 75 to 80 hours a month with United. My position at Luke is an incredibly purposeful job. There’s great significance and a sense of accomplishment that comes with acting as a liaison between the local community and Luke Air Force Base. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Today, Mitchell continues to serve his country with the same passion and exuberance as when he first joined.
“I loved every day of my active-duty career as well as the gift of once again being associated with the professionals of today’s Air Force,” Mitchell said. “The young men and women of today’s Air Force truly make me proud.”