By Senior Airman Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Lt. Col. Heather Cooley, the 19th Maintenance Squadron commander, was born with the birthright of leadership.
She dates her family’s strong lineage of service back to the Civil War and believes this tradition will continue for generations to come.
“It was always the plan for me to serve,” said Cooley. “Not just because of my mother and aunt, (who were chief nurses in their units), but because our family has a heritage of service. My mom and aunt traced their military heritage back to the Civil War, when brothers, David and Christen Yaney served. Each generation since then has served in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.”
Cooley has a double portion of military service instilled in her. Her father’s family shares in the patriotism as well. Both parents made sure their children contributed to serving their country in some way.
“Our history on my father’s side goes back almost as far,” said Cooley. “My mom and aunt both retired as nurses from the Air Force Reserves; my father was an acquisition officer and retired from the Air Force Reserves as well. From the time we were children, we were expected to serve at least a few years in the military and then pursue other goals. And we have.”
Cooley has served 16 years in the Air Force so far, and her twin sister worked as civil service for six years. Her younger sister was trained as an F-16 electro-environmental mechanic in the Air National Guard, and her brother has served more than 16 years as a communications technician in the Air National Guard.
“My aunt’s son served as a B-2 crew chief and just recently returned to serve in the Reserves as a medical technician,” said Cooley. “I thought for a while that I would just serve my four years and then go back to graduate school. But there was something about this job that keeps you coming back - it’s the drive and commitment of our Airmen, and the chance to be a part of something larger.”
Cooley said growing up with service members and watching her parents throughout the years has taught her that “we are tougher than we think, and we have to leave some time for ourselves so we can take care of others.”
Taking care of others is one of the reasons why Cooley is particularly excited about being the commander of the 19th MXS.
“This is my second time as a commander, but I am more excited about this one than the first,” said Cooley. “My first command was at a deployed location, so the challenges were a little different. I didn’t get to work with the personnel programs or many of the issues we deal with at home station. We had a lot of turnover in the squadron and the ops tempo was high. This opportunity to command the 19th MXS gives me a chance to be more involved in the personnel side and work together on longer term efforts.”
Cooley’s goal as commander of the newly created 19th MXS, she said, is to leave it better than she found it.
“Our squadron recently merged from two squadrons, the 19th Equipment Maintenance Squadron and the 19th Component Maintenance Squadron, and there have been many challenges this year which impact our Airmen,” said Cooley. “My intent is for our squadron to accomplish maintenance safely, by the book, and to train our replacements to the best of our ability. Sequestration, workforce management measures, deployments... these can all cause chaos and ambiguity for individuals. It is our responsibility as leaders to provide guidance and direction to move the unit forward.”
Cooley said the examples of leadership seen throughout the years displayed by her family members have been instrumental to the grooming and shaping of her drive and passion to serve.
“I have taken the idea of service from my family - our job as leaders is to serve our units and our Airmen to the best of our ability. Service before self is one of our core values, and I take this concept to heart. If I expect all of our Airmen to give their best, then I must set the example. There may be long days, weekend work, midnight phone calls and piles of paperwork, but there is also the opportunity to see our Airmen accomplish the mission on a daily basis.”