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At my worst, you had my back

Col. Willis poses for a photo with her mother

Col. Danielle Willis, 93d Air Ground Operations Wing commander, poses for a picture with her mother, Patricia LeFevre, at her Air War College graduation, May 2018. (Courtesy photo)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Just over a month ago, I took command of the 93d Air Ground Operations Wing (AGOW). It might be a bit of an understatement to say that this is my dream job. This is my third assignment in the AGOW. I was a squadron commander, vice wing commander, and now the wing commander. One thing I can say with confidence: I love this wing and its three missions, integrated base defense, combat weather and the Tactical Air Control Party weapons system. 

A few hours after the ceremony, I held a commander’s call with the squadron and group command teams. In it I gave the standard commander introductions. I told them who I am, where I came from and what I believed. I laid out expectations for them and for myself. I ended it sharing the guiding philosophy for my command team: Bring your best, and we’ll have your back.

Three days later, my life completely changed.

My sister called to tell me that our mother had gotten ill, was hospitalized, and her prognosis was grim. My chain of command approved emergency leave and an exception to policy to travel under the COVID-19 restrictions. By the time I made it to my mother’s bedside in hospice care, she was unable to talk, but I knew she recognized me because I saw her eyes light up when I arrived. Over the next week, my family took turns sitting with her and talking about the good times. She died a few days later, my sister and I each holding one of her hands.

When I returned to Moody Air Force Base, I let the wing staff and the leadership teams know what had happened and why I abruptly left so soon after taking command. I didn’t expect a response as I tried to focus on the mission and taking care of our Airmen. What happened next was overwhelming—I received emails and phone calls from across the wing. They all had the same message: We’ve got your back.

We’ve got your back. That simple phrase has gotten me through the last few weeks, and it will carry me through the hard months ahead. I knew I was connected to an organization full of amazing professionals that got the mission done every day, but I didn’t realize how impactful it would be to receive caring and empathetic leadership. Our Airmen were truly “leading up” to help me and my family get through an incredibly trying time.

I’m grateful to be part of this organization, and I’m humbled by the teamwork and sense of family. Even with units spread across 20 different locations, we manage to be a family in trying times. To the men and women of the 93d AGOW, thank you for having my back—I’ve got yours as well.  Ad meliora.