In it together, always
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 8, 2010 1:46 PM
Col. Patrick Doherty and his wife, Dee Dee, talk about their experiences as the 4th Fighter Wing first family. Col. Doherty took command of the 4th Fighter Wing on April 1.
As Patrick Doherty fields a question about how his wife, Dee Dee, motivates him, you can tell they are in it together, the 4th Fighter Wing commander and his first lady.
And by the time he finishes, she is looking into his eyes -- the same ones hers met in trepidation years before when a young Air Force officer took off toward war in the cockpit of a fighter jet.
The Dohertys have grown together over the past 19 years -- each gaining perspective as they traveled from base to base, welcomed three children into their lives and answered their country's call again and again, they said.
So leading the latest generation of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base families through similar experiences is a challenge both welcome -- albeit, with a certain sense of humility.
"We're just very blessed to be able to serve our nation in this capacity and help people," Doherty said.
For the colonel, leading means motivating those under his command to train with a sense of urgency for upcoming stints in Afghanistan and beyond.
"I talk to the brand new airmen, the ones who have just gotten to the base, and I describe to them what's in store for them in the future ... and the great opportunities they will have to make a difference," he said. "But you don't want to sugar-coat it. There are going to be some challenges in front of them."
Challenges like leaving loved ones behind for tours at war, an issue Doherty has already addressed by encouraging airmen to make as much time as possible for their families before they deploy.
"He cares about people. He cares about families," his wife said. "He wants people to be allowed more time for their families, because your family is your foundation. When that crumbles, everything else kind of starts crumbling, too."
It turns out she, too, is focused on families.
She knows about the nerves that accompany watching a partner and friend leave for the desert.
She has been the mother left behind to keep three little girls strong in their father's absence.
"So being in this position, it's very touching," she said. "You kind of go back to where you were at that time, when you were younger, and how you felt."
And she uses those experiences to show those who currently face all she has been through that they, too, will be OK -- that they have someone to lean on.
"I think a lot of them are stronger than they think they are, and everything that comes (with being an Air Force spouse) strengthens you over the years," she said. "So it's an honor and it's very humbling to me to be able to help them. I still look at these women and feel just like them."
The colonel smiles.
His wife seems to truly understand just what makes an effective leader.
"The experiences, and knowing what the younger folks are going through, is so critically important to leading," he said. "Just them ... knowing that we understand a little bit of what they are going through means a lot."
He knows because he has been the young warrior en route to war.
So he, too, draws from the past to motivate the nation's current war fighters to excel in theater.
And he tells them just how successful the 4th Fighter Wing has been each time its country has called.
"We have not missed a fight," Doherty said. "Every time there has been trouble brewing around the globe, our airmen and our F-15Es have been there."
Like back in 2003, when he and other Strike Eagle aviators had to adjust in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"The A-10s were having some fuel problems ... and that was our close-air-support platform," he said. "We really had not trained for close-air-support, but on a moment's notice, literally, within hours, we were supporting our ground forces. At that moment in time, that truly showed you the flexibility of our aircraft and our air crews ... and what we bring to the fight.
"The Strike Eagle is a 20-year-old jet that is being maintained by 20-year-olds and it's twice the jet is was 20 years ago. The nation is relying on our (aircraft) and our air crews to support and defend everything that we're about as a country -- especially our young soldiers and Marines from right here in North Carolina. We take that very seriously and we train for that very hard."
So don't expect the Dohertys to stop bringing up the past.
Experience, they say, is the perfect motivation -- for themselves and the airmen who have, for the last two months, served under them.
And don't think being named 4th Fighter Wing commander means Doherty needs his family's support any less than he did when he was a much younger airman.
The truth is, it is their strength that has kept him in the fight all these years.
"Just seeing (Dee Dee) -- she doesn't get the paycheck, she wasn't the one who raised her right hand to serve, but she does it -- so it's special," the colonel said. "And it keeps you going. Serving is just an entire team effort."