Pilot Walks a Heritage Pathway Through AF Career

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sam King

In March 2017, a young lieutenant just completed pilot training.  The constant pressure from the Air Force Academy through T-6 and T-38 training was finally released.  There was just one more decision to be made… who would pin on her wings.

For 1st Lt. Michelle Mullins, 911th Air Refueling Squadron, the decision was simple.  There was but one choice, her father, Thomas.

From the beginning, Mullins entire Air Force career has followed a pattern very similar to her parents experience during their decade in the blue.

Mullins said she didn’t live the Air Force-brat life.  Her parents completed their commitments before she was born, but the stories around the family dinner table made an impression.

Mullins went into the Air Force Academy just as her parents.  She also met her future husband there, the same as her parents.

“We were pleased and proud she chose to serve,” said Thomas, a former Air Force KC-10 pilot.   “The opportunities to follow, learn, and lead are second to none.”

Upon Academy graduation, Mullins parents were there to commission their daughter into the officer ranks.

Two years later, they would be there again.  This time Thomas would pin on her wings.

“There’s such a small group of people allowed to pin on pilot wings,” said the 25-year-old copilot.  “To have your father be on of those people and then to have him be able to pin them on.  It was truly a special moment.”

Again, she joined her father’s lane with her selection to fly “heavy” mobility aircraft.  The pathway to her first assignment was yet another seemingly fateful path. 

Mullins searched for an assignment that met the Air Force need, but also that of herself and her now-husband, a MV-22 Osprey pilot.

A friend of hers from the Academy, Molly Timmerman, a 911th ARS copilot currently in training here, suggested her squadron.  This met her requirements for heavy aircraft and the Osprey missions located to the east.  It turned out to also be the same squadron her father was assigned to as a KC-10 pilot.  Her parents both served here and lived in Goldsboro.  Mullins’ mother served as a maintenance officer with the 336th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.  

“I’m fortunate to have been a member of the squadron and pleased Michelle now has the opportunity to contribute to the unit history,” said the proud dad.  “The coincidence of serving in the same squadron 33 years apart is definitely cool.”

She and her parents visited the base together before she reported for duty.

“It was exciting to experience this new place and at the same time hear and see the family history my parents had at Seymour,” said Mullins.

The latest fateful coincidence came on the squadron’s First Friday event.  The pilots wear a heritage patch on those days that resembles an older version of the squadron’s current logo of a white bird.  The heritage patch is identical to the 911th patch her father wore during his service in the squadron.  He passed along those patches to Mullins for good luck when he found out she would be a member. 

Now on Fridays, Mullins displays her father’s patch on right arm with pride. 

“That patch has a lot of flying hours and has been a lot of places,” said Thomas.  “It’s good to see it flying again.”

There will be a lot of flying in Mullins’ future.  She plans to complete some deployments and qualify as an aircraft commander.  Another plan is to bring her father back to the 911th and show him around the squadron and her aircraft, the KC-135R Stratotanker.  What Thomas wants is to wave to her as she soars by.

“I’ve never actually seen her fly,” he said. “I would love someday to watch her work.  I know I would of course, be very impressed and very proud.” 

So far, the familial paths end there, but Mullins is still early in her career.  The 911th ARS is the active duty KC-135R unit that belongs to the Reserve 916th Air Refueling Wing.  The wing’s Reserve flying squadron is the 77th Air Refueling Squadron.  Mullins’ father was also a member of that squadron.

If Mullins decides to join the Air Force Reserve and continue to fly “heavies,” she could continue on her path of Air Force heritage.