Air Force Col. Mike Nabors (right), incoming commander 186th Air Refueling Wing, receives the wing flag from Army Maj. Gen. Augustus L. Collins, the adjutant general of Mississippi, on Dec. 7 at Key Field Air National Guard Base, Meridian, Miss. (Tech. Sgt. Richard L. Smith / Air Force)
MERIDIAN, MISS. — The first thing Col. Mike Nabors did when he took over command of the 186th Air Refueling Wing at Key Field was walk over to a large window in his office and gaze out over the tarmac where several KC-135 tankers sat silently awaiting their next mission.
Nabors, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard, wondered quietly what he had gotten himself into.
“I felt a pressure on me, I’m not going to lie about that,” Nabors said. “But it went away a short time later when I drove through the gate the next morning and the guard handed me the newspaper saying, ‘Here is your paper Colonel.’ I felt right then everything was going to work out fine and I was at ease.”
In December, Nabors was welcomed as the new commander at the G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery National Guard Complex in Meridian taking over for Col. Franklin Chalk who retired Nov. 30 after seven years at the controls.
The father of three children, Nabors was commander of flight operations for the 186th ARW and a pilot in the cockpit of the KC-135 Stratotanker before being tapped by Mississippi National Guard Adjutant Gen. Augustus Collins. Nabors said he is grateful for the confidence Collins has in his ability to lead the 186th ARW.
“I think the most important thing is that I’m confident in the members of the 186th ARW,” Nabors said. “I understand I’ve been given a legacy to continue to build upon one left by Col. Chalk that was left to him by the previous commander. The wing has become accustomed to performing at the highest level possible. I want us to continue that winning streak.”
Nabors said he has seen firsthand the type of airman that has come through the gates of the base. These are the same men and women who have taken on numerous flying missions and overcome great adversity with the loss, and then with the reacquisition of the KC-135 tanker flying mission.
These are the same airmen who took an Air Force mission, the MC-12 reconnaissance program called “Project Liberty,” and built it from scratch, virtually writing the manual and training the pilots and crews.
The standard is set high, thanks to the outstanding marks the wing earned in a recent USAF readiness exercise the first tanker wing, whether it was in the guard, reserve or active duty, ever to do so.
Nabors’ new responsibilities will include overseeing the mission and the members of his wing, as well as recruiting new members to join the Guard. Nabors will now oversee all logistics, training, personnel, and flying exercises for the entire base at Key Field.
At this moment, training and getting every airman on the base up to speed on the KC-135 is the first order of the day.
“You wouldn’t think that much would change in just a two-year period but the tanker has changed in the systems we are used to,” Nabors said. “There are new procedures and other demands. We have to be proficient in each and every one of them to maintain our high standards.”
Nabors said the 186th ARW and many other National Guard units have demonstrated time and again just how valuable these personnel can be. There is no more stigma of the weekend warrior, especially after the success and readiness capabilities of the nation’s National Guard was demonstrated beginning in the first Gulf War and continuing today in Afghanistan. Military leaders of the United States have come to both appreciate and count on all National Guard forces to do the missions at a high level of competency.
“We step up,” Nabors said. “We answer the call and we do our jobs well.”
The overall force makeup of guard units within a state will also have a future bearing on where, how, and when the 186th ARW will take off. Nabors said the new initiatives are leaning toward package deals, meaning the 186th ARW, the 172nd Airlift Wing stationed in Jackson, the 155th Brigade Combat Team scattered across the state and so forth may deploy together to augment other forces from other states.
This is not even considering the special operations and smaller, tactically driven assets the armed forces have at their command.
“I really don’t see any cuts or reduction of forces coming down the line for Guard units, mainly because of our expertise at an economical cost,” Nabors said. “We are a good deal for the military at a good price.”
Also, with the reduction in the mainstream forces, Nabors said that might work in favor of the Guard units such as the 186th ARW.
“There might be a bunch of pilots with thousands of hours of flying experience who may not be able to stay in the full-time positions and be looking at us as a way to stay in the air.
“A young person can come in here and learn from veterans no matter what the job is because we are so flexible and cover so many areas,” Nabors said. “They can travel, learn a great job, get paid for it and earn college scholarship funds, serve their country and their local community the sky is the limit.”