When you think about combat jets and fighter pilots, family might not be the first word that comes to mind, but for Col. Brian Vaughn, Vice Commander of the Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing, “family” perfectly describes the close connection he has with his team, and this bond is his favorite aspect of his job.
What first sparked your interest in aviation? My parents and sister comment all the time that as a toddler, I was constantly looking and pointing at the sky and particularly aircraft. I had a grandfather who flew B-17’s during WWII and had the honor of attending some reunions with him where I met many heroes. Then the great aviation movies of the 1980s came along like “The Right Stuff,” “Top Gun” and “Iron Eagle,” and I knew that I would not be happy unless I was a fighter pilot. After graduating from Auburn in 1996 in Aviation Management, my family and I were on active duty where I earned my wings and flew F-16’s for the Air Force until 2007.
Why did you choose to serve in the Alabama Air National Guard? After seven moves and multiple deployments, it was time for my family to settle down. I joined the Alabama Air National Guard and the 187th Fighter Wing in 2007 as a Traditional (part-time) guardsman. In 2008, I received a full-time position, and in addition to flying the Viper (F-16), I began working on classified avionics programs and integrating our current F-16 with next generation fighters such as the F-22 and F-35. In 2011, I became the 187th Maintenance Squadron Commander and the Maintenance Group Commander in 2012.
What is the role/purpose of the 187th Fighter Wing? To “… deliver combat ready Airmen and aircraft for rapid deployment anytime, anywhere.” We train every day to prepare our 1,400-plus Airmen to answer the call of the president or the governor within hours of notification. Primarily, we are a multi-role F-16 combat unit that specializes in Close Air Support with our troops on the ground, but we can provide numerous different mission capabilities anywhere on the globe in a multi-domain engagement. Additionally, we provide combat communication for regular and special forces units, counter drug and domestic law enforcement, natural disaster response and rapid civil medical emergency response. Currently, we are providing support for Homeland Defense with Operation Noble Eagle and support and protection of POTUS.
What are your primary duties as Vice Commander of the 187th Fighter Wing? As the Vice Wing Commander, I am privileged to implement the vision and direction of our Wing Commander, Col. Ed “Pinto” Casey. I try to focus on all aspects of the day-to-day operations of the Wing and interact with our great full-time and traditional guard team to allow him to be the visionary and strategic leader he is called to be. Col. Casey’s desire to be a Commander that trusts and empowers each of his leaders is a rare commodity in leadership, so working with him and for our Airmen is truly a dream job.
What’s your favorite thing about your work with the Wing? It is defined by an often over-used word, but it is the underlying foundation of the unit: “family.” When you are on active duty, especially as a pilot, you move just about every two years. My family and I are starting our 13th year with the Red Tails, and we plan to retire here. That amount of time spent with the same great Americans, means that you get to truly invest in each other’s lives, see them grow and sometimes watch each other’s kids grow up. Additionally, you get the privilege of watching young leaders bloom into great senior leaders and see the fruit of good mentorship.
What are your interests outside of work? I love to be outside on our farm or can be found in the woods deer, turkey or duck hunting and fishing. We are also very active in our church that we love, Journey Church of the River Region and helping with a ministry called PursueGod.org.