KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Dirt Dobber. Cowboy. Mr. C-130.
This short list represents just a few of the different monikers given to Lt. Col. Keith M. Gibson throughout his 29-year Air Force career.
This variety of epithets bestowed upon Gibson supports a certain theme in his career and life; in the best way possible, he is all over the place.
At Gibson’s retirement ceremony Aug. 3 in the 815th Airlift Squadron auditorium here, officiator Maj. Gen. Jay Jensen, the Director of Plans, Programs and Requirements, Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command, recalled to a standing room only audience that Gibson averaged one and a half majors per year when he was in college. Physical therapy. Marketing. Business. General studies, to name a few. Another list.
He finally settled and, in 1990, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of New Orleans while simultaneously commissioning as an officer in the Air Force via the school’s ROTC program.
The decision to commission and become a pilot was about as planned as the political science degree.
“I was not one of these kids that grew up building model planes and dreaming about aviation,” said Gibson, recalling the process of choosing a career in his younger years. “Honestly, it was my buddy bringing the idea to me, and I thought it sounded like a wonderful thing to do.”
So began the most impressive list: the one that highlights the many roles Gibson took on throughout his career.
The timing was not exactly right when Gibson commissioned. The Air Force was not in the market for pilots, so his career took a detour right out of the gate, and he accepted the opportunity to train in the air traffic control career field.
Gibson admitted he was disappointed at first at the potential impossibility of a pilot career and said that the Air Force even offered him the chance to separate, but his want to serve outweighed pilot aspirations and he took a chance on the air traffic control career field.
Despite this turn of events, Gibson handled the curveball like a professional, scoring an “Outstanding” on his, and the unit’s, first conventional operational readiness inspection as the chief of Air Traffic Control Operations at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
Four years after commissioning, Gibson finally received his chance to train as a pilot and headed to Columbus AFB, Mississippi, where he excelled among his peers allowing him the opportunity to choose the type of aircraft with which he would train to fly. Crew planes and their tactical uses had appealed to Gibson so he chose the T-41 and headed to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Texas to complete his pilot training.
Thus began his more than 20 years of experience with C-130 Hercules aircraft units beginning with the C-130H3 of the 50th Airlift Squadron “Red Devils” at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas from 1995 to 1999.
What led Gibson to his next assignment was the opportunity to be a part of the test operations for the Air Force’s new C-130Js. He said the assignment being close to his Louisiana hometown at Keesler AFB and the excitement of flying a brand new plane brought him to apply for the crew.
Initially, Gibson’s application was denied as pilots returning from deployments took priority for acceptance, but the overseeing officers reconfigured their criteria for acceptance realizing they needed pilots with at least some experience with the newer technology featured in the J-model flight deck. Gibson’s package was reevaluated, and he got the call.
Gibson said his experience as an operational test pilot was unique. He, active duty at the time, and a handful of others from the National Guard and the Reserve began testing with volumes of checklists called “Concept of Operations.” As they progressed with their experience with the new model, the crew contributed immensely to guidance and checklists used today.
By the time his role as operational test pilot wrapped up, Gibson had reached his 10 year pilot training commitment, and he decided to separate from active duty Air Force and become a traditional reservist with the 403rd Wing. In the familiar territory of not knowing exactly what he wanted to do next, Gibson applied for opportunities with FedEx and an air reserve technician position with the wing, all while working as an instructor for the C-130J aircraft simulator here.
To amplify the matter of indecisiveness, Gibson received job offers from the two he applied for plus an offer to become site manager of the simulator, but his love for military flying made the decision easy for him. A year after separating from active duty, he began his 15 year homestretch here in the 403rd Operations Group standardization and evaluation office.
Throughout his tenure with the 403rd that aforementioned impressive list of roles really took flight. From assistant director of operations at the squadron level to deployed squadron commander all the way up to group commander and everything in between, Gibson has embodied and achieved the 403rd Wing mission of developing exceptional Airmen ready to respond to every challenge, every time.
One notable accomplishment of Gibson’s with the 403rd occurred in 2005 when he and a crew of seven other reservists embarked on a 22-day, 26,000-plus mile circumnavigation of the globe that consisted of crossing into 33 time zones and nine stops in seven countries. A first for the new C-130J.
Another unique experience for Gibson happened in 2012 when, a week after taking the job as director of operations for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, Hurricane Sandy, the largest, most destructive, and most powerful storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, thrashed the East Coast. He said Sandy provided a huge learning experience for himself, but attributes the success of the mission to the experience of the crews assigned to fly the storm.
Judging by the vastness and exuberant vibe of the crowd at his retirement ceremony, stories of Gibson’s competence and leadership skills do not stop there.
It is apparent through Jensen’s remarks and the long line of people saying good-bye to Gibson that his impact in the wing and in the Air Force transcended his job titles and piloting skills.
Just the same, Gibson touted his wing peers not as co-workers but as family.
“When I look out at all of these people I see friends, really family, and I have grown with you and I will tell you the biggest thing is that you let me into your lives,” said Gibson. “I have been here for 20 years, and I have gotten to experience many of your happy moments, some of your sad moments, and it is the same on my side. We have shared many sessions where we got to talk and learn more about you, your families, your kids, and that has been the real honor.”
Gibson is off to his next journey back at the simulator as a pilot instructor. While the simulator is responsible for training C-130J crews all over the world, it is the impact Gibson gets to continue to have on the wing that he said is really exciting.