Meet the Vice: Col. Shawn Mattingly

  • Published
  • By SSgt Kristen Pittman
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

“You’re probably wondering, ‘What’s a tanker guy doing in a C-130 unit?’” said Col. Shawn Mattingly to a sea of reservists during a commander’s call in March.

Mattingly, a KC-10 and C-17 pilot by trade, recently took up the position of vice commander for the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

As he mentioned, the 403rd is home to C-130s, specifically 10 C-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 815th Airlift Squadron Flying Jennies and 10 WC-130Js assigned to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters. In addition to the flying missions, the roughly 1,400-person Air Force Reserve Command unit carries out a variety of tasks including aeromedical evacuation and staging squadrons, operational weather flights, logistics readiness, and security forces.

So how did a “tanker guy” end up here?

From an early age Mattingly knew he wanted to fly. The dream stemmed from his father who was a Special Operations C-130 pilot in the Vietnam War, as well as his fascination at airshows. He didn’t know what path he would take to get there, but he knew it’s what he wanted to do.

Naturally, he enrolled at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and pursued a degree in psychology.

“I loved the sciences in college—psychology, biology, chemistry, all of it, so my plan was to be a research scientist,” he said. “It was in the early ‘90s that I got a job working with the (Centers for Disease Control) in the retrovirus research lab.  This was in the beginning days of HIV research, and there wasn’t a lot known about it. So, in order to work with the virus, I had to be in a full containment area, often alone. I loved the science aspect of that job but not the long hours of isolation.”

Needing a change, Mattingly found a more team-oriented environment working for a pharmaceutical company.

“I don’t remember much about my first day there, but I do remember calling my family and telling them, ‘Well, I met my wife,’” he recalled.

It would be his future wife--he was right--who would be the catalyst to him fulfilling his flying dream when one day she asked him if his current job was what he wanted to do with his life.

“I told her no, if I could do anything, I’d fly for the Air Force,” he said. “She just looked at me and said, ‘Then why aren’t you?’”

Six months after that conversation, Mattingly was at Officer Training School.

“The 78th Air Refueling Squadron at McGuire (Air Force Base, N.J.) interviewed me for their first ever civilian slot for pilot training,” he said. “Before, the KC-10 had been selectively manned by pilots coming off of active duty.”

The 78th informed him he would be the first they sent through this pipeline, and asked if he’d be interested despite this being their first time going through the process, to which Mattingly replied to the hiring officer, “Sir everything I own fits in my car, and I could leave tomorrow.”

That makes Mattingly, as he puts it, a “Reserve baby,” having spent his entire 25 years of service in the Air Force Reserve.

“I know I’ve got a learning curve when it comes to C-130 operations and the missions here, but what I do bring to the table is my wealth of experience as a reservist,” he said. “I’ve served in just about every status imaginable. I’ve been an (Air Reserve Technician), a (traditional reservist), a (traditional Guardsman), I’ve deployed, I’ve been an (Individual Mobilization Augmentee), I even spent a couple of years as a CAT-E.  I think the only thing I haven’t done is an Active Guard-Reserve tour.  I’ve done almost all of this while also serving as an airline pilot and flight instructor.  I know how difficult managing the two careers can be.”

He said his wealth and variety of experience enables him to have a better understanding of what Airmen are going through, and that it’s also been a great networking opportunity should someone be searching for the next step or move in their career.

This is another strength Mattingly said he brings--force development.

“If I’ve learned anything during my time in the reserve, it’s this: the Reserve is a sales job—nobody has to be here,” he said. “To juggle two careers between the military and a civilian job, is crazy-town, it is very difficult. Figuring out what motivates people and why they want to be here, that to me is what I bring, the ability to develop folks and keep them here when things get tough and make sure they and their families are getting what they want out of the sacrifice.”

At the aforementioned commander’s call, Col. Stuart M. Rubio, 403rd Wing commander, spoke of his excitement and expectations as Mattingly begins his time as vice commander.

“I’m excited to finally have a full wing leadership staff,” he said. “Col. Mattingly is an awesome addition to the wing and will push us all to constantly improve as both individual Airmen and as a team.”