MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Col. Russell Cook took command of the 23d Wing, May 27. After a week in the seat, we sat down with him to learn about his experience, priorities and vision for the wing. Read the full interview below.
Q: What do you want people to know about you?
A: I’m not that important, but if there’s one thing it’s just how happy I am to be a Tiger. This is only the second time I’ve been here at Moody but it’s my fourth assignment as a Flying Tiger. I started off my combat rescue career right here at the 41st. My squadron command was at the 563rd Operations Support Squadron at Davis-Monthan, when it was part of the 23d Wing. Then I came here and was a group commander and now a Wing commander. I absolutely love the unit, who we are, the heritage and everything about it, so there’s no place I’d rather be.
Q: What experience are you bringing from past assignments?
A: Obviously my combat experience is a big part of this, specifically being in rescue. Agile combat employment looks a lot like what we did in rescue – operating out of tents at various locations, maneuvering around, being very agile and building multi-capable Airmen. The second piece is coming from staff at U.S. Forces Korea in Indo-Pacific Command – a theater that is very much at the forefront of why we need to do agile combat employment. And lastly, being a part of this team for the past year. Being here for Mosaic Tiger, being part of the team that was working hard for Col. Walls, is why I can look at where we’re at and say, “okay, this is the next logical step for where we need to be.”
Q: What is more important to you: the mission or the people?
A: Family always comes first. There is no mission without the people, it doesn’t work without the family. We saw it with retention in the mid 2010s. Retention took a crazy dip because we weren’t taking care of people, we were taking care of the mission first. I think the Air Force has its head wrapped around that and taking care of the families is now at the heart of everything.
Q: Did you have any mentors as you were coming up in the Air Force?
A: There have been a multitude. Staff Sgt. “Pep” Perez was certainly one of them. He saw this lieutenant walk in one day who has no clue what he’s supposed to do and says, “hey are you in training?” And I say, “I think so.” So, he puts his arm around me and says, “here’s your chair right here, you sit next to me and this is what we do.” He remained a mentor for most of my career until he retired. The point of that is, there are mentors all around us. I think we look too big sometimes, we look to these senior folks like chiefs or colonels, but one of my greatest mentors was a staff sergeant – someone who just had life experience in the Air Force and was willing to be a mentor to a young lieutenant. I always tell folks most of my life has not been impacted heavily by colonels and chiefs. It’s been impacted by staff sergeants and lieutenants and captains. If you just take care of the folks around you in your immediate circle, the Air Force will be a lot better. When you walk into shops and sections and you see the folks who are taking care of each other, mentoring and helping each other out – those sections are always amazing and they’re fun to be part of. It’s taken a village of mentors to get me from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to here.
Q: What is your leadership philosophy?
A: Move out and execute. Speed and violence. That’s it. What I want to do is enable Airmen at multiple levels to move out. If you look at what we have to be able to do by October of next year – it’s a lot, and we’re not built to do it. So, to be able to do that you have to have a culture of trust. As long as we trust each other, trust that our intent is right, trust our focus on the mission, and trust our expertise, that’ll allow everyone to execute, go out and get things done. I think Moody’s got that in a lot of ways, and I think Mosaic Tiger proved that. But I think we can do things better, like giving the enlisted corps more opportunities to execute, not just the officer level.
Q: What are some things you’d like to change about the way this wing operates?
A: There are a lot of great things going on here, so a lot of what I want to do is continue what’s already happening. One of my focus areas will be the Airmen that live in the dorms. I really want to home in on dorms and how we can improve life for an Airman living at Moody Air Force Base and what things we can do to make Moody a better assignment for Airmen.
Q: What is your vision for the 23d Wing moving forward?
A: The reality is that Moody and the 23d Wing are on a great path. We’re more prepared than a lot of the other wings going out the door. So, the biggest “change” is really just continuing in the direction we’re moving – which is becoming a lead wing. We need to be ready to walk out the door and go to combat anywhere, anytime. That’s where you’ll see our focus and a lot of the things we do will prioritize that. A lot of the other vectors remain the same: taking care of our Airmen and continuing to increase how we educate and develop leaders. But the focus, as always, is keeping the Flying Tigers in the lead.