One last thing: Heseltine discusses legacy at Team McConnell

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 931st Air Refueling Wing

After more than five years of leadership, Col. Phil Heseltine will hand off leadership of the 931st Air Refueling Wing to Col. Cynthia Welch, 446th Operations Group commander.

During his time here, Heseltine oversaw the delivery of the first two KC-46A Pegasusses in 2019, lead the wing through the COVID-19 Pandemic, the end of the 931st KC-135 Stratotanker flying mission in 2020, and the historical deployment of members of the 931st Mission Support Group that coincided with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2021.

Before his final day in Command June 3, Heseltine sat down and took time to reflect on his legacy at Team McConnell.

1. What aspect of leadership have you enjoyed the most about the 931st Air Refueling Wing?

One aspect I have enjoyed the most is the team building and the ability to bring together a group of highly qualified individuals. The 931st ARW started this journey with KC-135s and we transitioned to a new weapons system. To do that, we brough the best of the best to analyze all situations as we did this.

How we accomplished this at McConnell Air Force Base has already been replicated across all the main operating bases. We’ve had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for an aircraft that has never been in the Air Force before and that was all about the KANZA Warriors coming together as a team and identifying all our strengths and putting people in the right place.

Now look at us—we’re all over the world.

2. What do you hope your legacy is as you depart?

My hope is that during my five years here the organization is on a solid foundation moving forward to becoming the greatest air refueling wing that there has ever been. The 931st can be the standard that you want to set yourself to, the unit that everyone wants to join and the location where you want to go because it’s the center of the Air Force for good people that take care of each other and their families.

I hope that in the time that I was here that I was able to get that in motion. I think we were already in motion when I got here but I think we had to go through some challenging cultural issues.

Changing culture in an organization is hard. By textbook definition, changing culture can take up to six years. We’re still developing that. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to come back in a few years and see where we are.

3. What was one of the biggest challenges you faced during your tenure as the 931st ARW commander?

COVID-19 was one of the toughest things I’ve had to deal with in my 30-years career. I think we will be discussing this period in history for a long time.

4. What do you feel is the most significant accomplishment made by the wing since you arrived?

The KC-46 success was obviously a big deal and it’s an easy story to tell, but I feel the story that does not get told a lot is the story of what our Mission Support Group, particularly the Force Support, Security Forces, and Civil Engineer Squadrons, did during the Afghanistan withdrawal in August 2021.

The development of the 931st MSG and the worldwide capability that was executed by their commander, Col. Matthew Basler, was amazing. It was the largest humanitarian movement of people since the Berlin Airlift, and they were right there in the front of it.

I honestly don’t think there is a pocket of people within the 931st ARW that hasn’t done amazing things in the past few years. I’m really proud of the fact that I can say I was a KANZA Warrior.

5. You were originally from active-duty service. What made you want to continue your journey with the 931st?It’s service. It’s a sense of your “why?” I think that no matter what you do it can either be who you are or just basically what you do. I want, and I will still want, to find the things that are going to fulfill my why.

Whatever the next thing is for me, it’s going to have to be something that pulls me out of bed and makes me say, “You know what, you’re going to make something better for someone or some entity outside of us because of what you do today.

I didn’t want to be a part of something that was driving someone else’s suspenses. Ultimately, this is an organization of more than a 1,000 of people that want to be here. Everybody in this wing is a volunteer. Everybody comes back here because they are excited to be here, and I wanted to be a part of that.

I watched this unit as a captain in the active duty 22 years ago with no plans to join. I wish I had joined sooner, but thought the window to join the National Guard or the Reserve was over for me. Luckily, this job did come a long at the right time for me and my family.

I think that we’ve left this place better than it was before. I feel like there’s a sense of pride. It was there before, but I think I can’t definitely see and feel it now when I walk around.‚Äč