JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Texas Military Department leaders announced their decision in late June of who would be the next vice commander of the 149th Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard F-16 unit known as the Lone Star Gunfighters.
The selection board chose Col. Megan Erickson, commander of the 149th FW’s Mission Support Group.
“Megan brings an impressive background of education and experience, and I am confident that she will help this wing continue to excel at every level,” said Col. Raul Rosario, 149th FW commander.
Erickson comes to the position with a diverse military background. She has experience in finance, protocol, public affairs, executive support, personnel and logistics. During her 26 years of service, she has served in the Air Force on both active duty and in the Air National Guard, has been stationed stateside and overseas, and has been in charge of joint forces units as well as service-specific components.
One of Erickson’s earliest experiences with military leadership was as the chief of protocol during the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996. Then a newly minted first lieutenant, she was in charge of all the specialized teams assigned to investigate and accomplish various tasks belonging to the aftermath of that bombing. Having now the benefit of hindsight, she is quick to shy away from any credit regarding her role in that crisis.
“I can’t imagine what it was like the day that it happened,” she said. “I think I have a different perspective coming into it three to five days later that is different from being there when it happened, but I think you have to disengage your emotions side of it. I can compartmentalize – good or bad, I can – so I just focused on what I had to do.
Disconcerting as it was, she said that environment taught her some life lessons about standing up for what is right despite political pressure.
“I remember leading some of those tiger teams and people who were in vulnerable positions, and I did sometimes have to course-correct along the way,” she said. “I was in a position to say, ‘hey, no, wait a minute, we’re going to stop this tour because I think we’ve lost focus of what this is about.’ I understand they had a job to do,’ but I didn’t want to forget the human side of it either, so it taught me it shouldn’t matter who you are standing up to if you’re doing the right thing.”
Leadership seems to come naturally to Erickson who, at 15, was managing at a restaurant people sometimes 20-plus years older than she was. It was there she credits with first learning about her most valuable leadership lessons.
“Sometimes direct isn’t the best way,” she said. “You shouldn’t always go in immediately and say something unless you truly have something value-added to say. One of the best ways to learn is to take in your surroundings. You have to stop and pay attention, and I’ve done a lot of observing along the way.
No stranger to crisis, Erickson has also been responsible for handling domestic operations in Texas. Before taking on the MSG commander role in 2017, Erickson was the support director for the DOMOPS Task Force at Joint Force Headquarters in Austin.
Despite all that experience on her resume, Erickson still admits to being surprised when the commander called her into his office to deliver the good news.
“I had no idea, honestly, and obviously, I felt honored,” Erickson said. “I was excited but also a little hesitant, only because I love being the MSG commander, but I also love leading people. I know vice commander is a very different role, and I just want to be a sounding board for group commanders because I know I appreciated having that in Col. Reid.”
Reid is Erickson’s predecessor. He accepted a position in early August at Camp Mabry’s Joint Forces Headquarters as the director of staff for the Texas National Guard.
Although vice commander was never in her career plans, Erickson said she’s thankful for the opportunity and hopes to continue the legacy of being a non-rated officer as vice commander, a designation first held by Reid. A non-rated officer simply means an officer who is not also a military-trained pilot.
“I think he broke the mold in showing what another perspective to the mission can bring to the wing as a whole,” she said. “Yes, our mission is to train F-16 pilots and get them ready for the CAF [combat Air Force], and that is important; but we also have other missions going on, and I want to help the wing commander focus on the operational piece a little more by providing a better balance and representation to the mission. I just want to continue to be that voice and perspective for the entire wing.
Any new job position comes with its own set of responsibilities and expectations, but Erickson seems unconcerned with those obvious pressures. She simply wants to focus on the task at hand and well represent the wing’s beloved nickname.
“That’s important to me – to be effective and enjoy coming to work because if you don’t, you won’t be effective,” she said. “I’m proud to be a Gunfighter, and I will stay one for as long as I add value to the mission.”