Getting to know new 307th Bomb Wing commander

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U.S. Air Force Col. Steven Kirkpatrick, 307th Bomb Wing commander, greets fellow Secret Squirrels during his induction as wing commander at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, April 7, 2019. The Secret Squirrels, B-52 Stratofortress aviators, opened up Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Kirkpatrick is the last of the group still serving in the military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Maxwell Daigle)

By Master Sgt. Ted Daigle, 307th Bomb Wing

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE —When Operation Desert Storm began in 1991, 307th Bomb Wing commander Col. Steven W. Kirkpatrick was at the tip of the spear, operating one of the B-52 Stratofortress bombers that flew from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana to Iraq, staying airborne until their return home.  The 35-hour mission wreaked havoc on Saddam Hussein’s military infrastructure, allowing other U.S. military components of Desert Storm to operate in the area almost at will. Kirkpatrick and his fellow Airmen on the mission became known as the Secret Squirrels, because they were not allowed to speak about where they had been, or what they had done, for a year after the mission.

In the following years, Kirkpatrick compiled more than 5,100 hours in the B-52 and served as a commander at the squadron and wing levels. He also helped to build the 917th Wing, the predecessor of the 307th Bomb Wing, from the ground up.  Barely a week into his tenure as 307th Bomb Wing commander, Kirkpatrick took time out to do an interview, where he spoke freely about his plans and hopes for the future of the unit.

Q: You are no stranger to the wing, having served as 93rd Bomb Squadron commander from 2000 to 2004.  How do you plan on leveraging this experience in guiding the 307th Bomb Wing?

A: I believe my experience in the bomber community will be helpful, but I also know a lot has changed since I left Barksdale in 2004.  I know a great deal about the wing and its history and I’ve been in the nuclear business before, so those are all advantages.  The disadvantage is things having changed a great deal at the wing level, so I’m going to have to re-learn some things in order to be effective.

Q:  Regarding your background, how will it play into working closely with our active duty partners here?

A:  There is a lot of demand for the B-52, B-1 (Lancer) and B-2 (Spirit) bombers and we have two of those three aircraft in the wing.  So, we are certainly a player in helping them perform the overall mission.  I’m getting to understand the requirements and our ability to meet those requirements. I don’t want to over-extend our Airmen, but I want them to be able to take part in things that are beneficial to them and our active-duty partners.

Q.  To that end, what do the first 90 days as commander of the wing look like to you?

A: It looks really exciting! The first 90 days will be laying to groundwork for fulfilling the vision of what the wing can become.  I plan on visiting all our units and meeting as many people as possible. I like to lead by walking around, so our Airmen will likely see me around.  I also want to work closely with the 2nd and 7th Bomb Wings, 8th Air Force, and Air Force Global Strike Command. I’m glad to be back here and it feels like my career has come full circle. This is probably my last job before I retire, so it is really nice to lead a unit I helped to build from the ground up.

Q:  How would you define your management style?

A:  I want to delegate authority to the lowest level, but I want to be hands-on as well.  What I mean by that is I want to be present in a way that is more like working alongside our Airmen.  I need to be able to understand what they are going through and how I can help. 

Q: What do you think are some the greatest opportunities and greatest challenges facing the wing and how do you think they should be approached?

A: We have the Formal Training Unit, which provides training for all B-52 aircrew for the Air Force.  So the challenge and opportunity there is to turn out quality members that can take care of business for many years to come.  We have the combat side, as well, so we have the opportunity to integrate our B-1s and B-52s with active duty and work as a combined team.

Q: What’s the greatest thing you want the Airmen of the 307th Bomb Wing to know about the mission going forward?

A:  I want them to know how proud I am to serve alongside them and how vitally important their mission is to the defense of our nation, both in deterrence and combat.  The B-1 and B-52 carry an amazing amount of firepower and both are highly desired by combat commanders in any theater, so we always have to be ready to fulfill our mission.

Q:  Are you looking forward to getting back in the B-52?

A:  I am!  Some of the systems and weapons have changed, so I’ll have to work through that.  But, I know the jet and I’m anxious to fly it again.  I’m also looking forward to flying in the B-1, as well, without taking away training time from other aviators, of course.  I’ve only flown one sortie in that aircraft, but it was great. 

Q:  Any parting thoughts?

A:  I’m just proud to serve alongside the Airmen of the 307th Bomb Wing.  It’s great to come back and see the younger generation taking charge and moving the mission forward.  When you get older and watch them doing their thing, that’s what gets me excited about the mission.  That is what it is all about.  It is definitely the fun part of the job and it makes me feel like we are in good hands for the future.