As a pilot, Lt. Col. Stephen Catchings, Chief of Safety for the 908th Airlift Wing, is carrying on a family tradition. But his ties to his fellow Airmen form a tight Air Force family too, one that’s stronger for the wide range of personalities and perspectives it includes.
When and why did you join the Air Force Reserve? I was commissioned into the Air Force Active Duty in August 1988 after graduating from Auburn University, Aerospace Engineering. I joined the Air Force Reserves in June 2000 after being on active duty for 11 years. I switched to the Reserves because my wife and I wanted to start a family. The Reserves provided much needed stability since we were both active duty at the time.
What first got you interested in being a pilot? My father and grandfather were both pilots. My grandfather flew for the Army Air Corps and American Airlines when the airline first started. My father flew F-4 fighter jets in Vietnam and A-10 fighter jets in Europe. Hearing their stories about flying all over the world got me hooked.
What are your duties in the 908th? My flying duties are Instructor/Evaluator Aircraft Commander and Mission Commander. Basically, I teach flying proficiency and combat tactics. I also administer periodic evaluations to the other pilots and copilots. My primary ground duties in the 908th have been Chief of Standardization and Evaluations and Director of Operations. Most recently, I am the Chief of Wing Safety, which covers ground, weapons and flying safety.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work? I enjoy teaching and sharing my years of experience with the younger aircrew. Flying is fun but it can be extremely unforgiving of mistakes and the missions can be very complicated. More importantly though is when I have been able to use the C-130 platform to help those in need. I have flown several hurricane relief missions. In 2010, when Haiti had the earthquake, I flew more than 50 patients with injuries to the United States to get medical attention. That same year, I flew missions all over Pakistan when that country experienced severe flooding. The most important missions I have flown were the medical evacuation missions into combat zones to move wounded warriors, some critical, to areas with medical facilities.
Also, I’ve been blessed to serve with some truly amazing people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, gender, sexual preferences, collegiate preferences (War Eagle), you name it. I’ve learned that when it comes to the aircraft and stick and rudder flying, none of that matters. When it comes to accomplishing the mission, all of it matters. Why? Because all that diversity brings a wider range of perspectives. If you listen and learn from all of them, it allows you to find solutions and make more educated decisions.
What are your thoughts on the 908th’s transition to the MH-139A Grey Wolf Formal Training Unit? I have mixed emotions. I love the C-130 and the mission. The 908th has been a very large part of the mission all over the world, so it is heartbreaking to see that come to an end. At the same time, it is rewarding to see that the Air Force has picked the 908th to transition to this new mission that is critical to national security. It also means that the 908th will continue to be relevant to the Active Duty and the Reserves for years to come.
What are your interests outside of work? I have a wife and two sons. They keep me very busy. I have coached baseball for almost eight years, and that has been at times as rewarding as the C-130 missions. We absolutely love the school our boys attend (Saint James), and we go to a lot of the football and baseball games and other functions.
By the Numbers
The stats of Lt. Col. Stephen Catchings Air Force and Air Force Reserve service so far are impressive: 33 years of service, 7,000 flying hours in 56 countries, more than 700 combat hours and more than 10 deployments. But he’s humble. “I don’t really think of them as ‘my’ accomplishments because I didn’t do any of that by myself,” he said.