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U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Goggin
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Eliason
ROTC Students Reunite in Combat Environment
By Capt. Teresa Sullivan
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
SOUTHWEST ASIA, Sept. 17, 2007 — Two lieutenant colonels with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing bring the words "once a wingman, always a wingman" to life, showing how Air Force ties transcend barriers of time and distance.

"The relationships you develop while deployed will help you later in your Air Force journey. Building these bonds helps us get the mission accomplished and is what makes us the best Air Force in the world. We have a history. This is what it's all about -- and that's how we roll."
Lt. Col. Kelly Goggin

Proving the Air Force is getting smaller, two former classmates of Central Washington State's Air Force ROTC Detachment 895 reunited after 17 years, each commanding airmen in combat in the sky over Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Kelly Goggin, the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron commander, and Lt. Col. Michael Eliason, the 9th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron commander, took time to describe their time as wingmen from cadets to colonels.

Although their motivations for entering the Air Force were different - he joined because "Top Gun" was cool and was the editor of his college newspaper; she wanted to fly, liked to march and was a member of the Arnold Air Society - they now find their motivations the same.

The two came from similar backgrounds and enjoyed learning the profession of arms in the college town of Ellensburg, Wash., they said. Their good natured ribbing had not skipped a beat over the years.

"She took ROTC very seriously," said Eliason, a native of Kittitas, Wash. "I remember out at one of our leadership labs she jacked me up because of my uniform wear. I definitely thought she was uptight. She was our marching monitor -- and she was really mean."

Goggin said that she could see, then-Cadet Eliason, "coming from a mile a way," -- and not in a good way.

When asked what sort of nicknames they used to go by, Goggin said, "He called me 'Ma'am.'"

Goggin, the former cadet lieutenant colonel, was in the class of 1988. This meant she outranked Eliason, a former cadet second lieutenant, by one year. She had her work cut out for her in molding this junior cadet, she said.

Eliason said his time on the baseball and football field may have taken precedence over his time in the classroom, but not so for Goggin.

Would they describe themselves as leaders back then?

"Not close," he said.

"I was trying pretty hard," she said.

Goggin said she remembered their detachment commander, Col. Richard Thompson, and how he influenced both their lives.

"What I remember about him, was that he thought outside of the box," said Goggin, a native of Moses Lake, Wash. "One time he brought in three chaplains of different denominations to talk to our detachment about biblical references on warfare and the use of lethal force -- so we could come to grips with what we'd be doing in the future. That impressed me and it was typical of how he thought outside the box."

Neither would have thought those times would affect them 17 years later, they said.

The Air Force took them in separate directions upon graduation from college. Groggin went to KC-135 Stratotanker navigator training and Eliason went to pilot training to fly the B-1B Lancer.

For a short time Eliason said he thought about cutting his Air Force ties as a captain. He got as far as taking terminal leave before realizing the grass wasn't greener on the other side. He still belonged in the Air Force family.

"What I learned from that time can be described by six words -- lead, teach, mentor, humble, approachable and credible," Eliason said. "I try to lead with that approach and in the outside I didn't see that."

Running into an old wingman and buddy, is very likely at the 379th -- known for being the hub of the AOR. Here they would meet again, nearly two decades later and their relationship -- their wingman spirit, had not tarnished.

"I flew out here on an Air Force tanker and Colonel Groggin greets all the tankers that come in. She came up and said 'Where's Eli' and I knew she looked familiar," Eliason said. "I finally put two and two together."

"She looks a little different, but I look great except for my hair," he said.

Goggin and Eliason were thankful to see familiar faces. Instead of marching drills and leadership labs, they'd be working in a complex environment with multiple mission defense systems in non-stop, high-intensity combat air operations. Their bond elevated them to the top of their game during recent surge operations here when textbook integration and flawless execution was required, they said.

"During that span of a couple of weeks there was so much coordination with the tankers and bombers, fallout plans, alert tankers -- you name it," Eliason said. "We had to 'what-if' scenarios to death. We were working 20 hours a day and it was exhausting. She helped me then and she does now."

When it was all said and done the teammates successfully coordinated B-1B and KC-135 operations -- carrying out key missions in the war on terrorism.

Their integration doesn't stop at the squadron doors. Even after the long workday, the KC-135 and B-1B squadron commanders manage to make time for fun and their airmen follow suit.

They describe the bomber-tanker relationship here as unique, where the esprit de corps is high. The colonels set the tone for culture barriers to be lowered, fully integrating the tanker-bomber worlds professionally and socially.

They described their Air Force bond as one of the "great intangibles."

"Professional relationships are great, but you've got to dig down and cultivate those personal relationships to really be a part of the Air Force wingman culture," said Eliason, husband and father of two girls ages 9 and 12, who reside at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. "Thanks to Kelly, this has got to be the most comfortable multi-mission defense system environment I've ever been in."

"The relationships you develop while deployed will help you later in your Air Force journey," said the wife and mother of four -- two boys ages 2 and 14, and two girls 6 and 16, currently at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. "Building these bonds helps us get the mission accomplished and is what makes us the best Air Force in the world. We have a history. This is what it's all about -- and that's how we roll."

Last Updated:
09/17/2007, Eastern Daylight Time
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