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New commander lands at Little Rock Air Force BaseOriginally Published September 22, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 20, 2013 at 2:10 p.m.
Many people who enter the military are either influenced by a family member who has served or live in a city with a large military presence. But for the newest 19th Airlift Wing commander at the Little Rock Air Force Base, neither was the case.
Originally from New York, Col. Patrick Rhatigan said he came into the military in an unconventional manner.
“I got involved [with the military] because of the teachers I had in high school,” Rhatigan said. “They asked me, ‘How are you going to pay for college?’”
These questions made him think, and his teachers told him he had the right personality to do well in the military. His high school baseball coach helped find Rhatigan a way to fly out to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado to see what the teenager thought of the program.
“For a kid who had never been farther west than Pennsylvania, when I got off the plane in Colorado Springs I was pretty sold on it,” Rhatigan said. “I had no military background and no military in my family. I got out there and thought, ‘Wow, this is really something.’”
He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science degree in English literature, then trained as a pilot. From there, his military career took him to posts across the nation and the world.
“I went to pilot training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona,” he said.
Rhatigan completed his pilot training, then became a C-12F pilot and squadron executive officer of the 13th Airlift Squadron at the Kadena Air Base in Japan from September 1992 to August 1993.
“[At Kadena Air Base], I was in Okinawa flying the C-12,” he said.
After a year there, Rhatigan flew to Yakota Air Base, where he was the C-21A aircraft commander and pilot scheduler of the 459th Airlift Squadron in Japan from 1993 to 1995.
And he didn’t stop traveling. In November 1995, Rhatigan was the C-141B aircraft commander and nuclear courier officer of the 20th Airlift Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in California.
“I flew a C-141 over the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said, remembering his actions of nearly two decades ago.
He stayed at Travis Air Force Base until November 1997, when he was given an assignment as the C-141B instructor pilot at the McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.
In the same year, he became a distinguished graduate of the Squadron Officer School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
Rhatigan completed his first assignment at McChord, then became a C-17A aircraft commander and instrument refresher course instructor of the 728th Airlift Squadron at McChord Air Force Base until July 2003.
He then went back to school for a bit at the Air Command and Staff College to receive a Master of Military Operational Art & Science degree in 2004 at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
After going back to school, Rhatigan’s journey was far from over. Beginning in July of 2004, he served at the Pentagon as chief of the Mobility Programs Integration Branch of the Air Force’s Global Mobility Panel.
He held this position until October 2005, then changed positions once again at the Pentagon, when he put part of his English-literature degree to work.
“From 2005 to 2007, I was in the Pentagon as a speech writer for the secretary of the Air Force,” Rhatigan said.
In 2007, Rhatigan was deployed to Manas Air Force Base in Kyrgyzstan.
“I was the commander of combat there,” he said.
Upon completing his deployment in Kyrgyzstan, it was back to school for Rhatigan once again. In July 2009, he was a student of the National War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.
He flew back to the Pentagon to fulfill his duty as military assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. In May 2012, Rhatigan was deployed once again, but this time he was the commander of an operation in Southwest Asia.
“I was the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group commander,” he said.
He returned to his then-home in Virginia in May 2013, where he packed up his house, kids and wife and made his way to the Little Rock Air Force Base to fulfill his role as commander of the 19th Airlift Wing.
“It’s my first time in Little Rock, and it’s been great,” Rhatigan said. “The community is fanatical about this base.”
Rhatigan explained that with the variety of his assignments within the Air Force, he’s been able to see many aspects of this division of the military.
“I’ve been consistently inconsistent in my career,” he said. “A lot of people have straight careers where they’ve only flown a C-130 or they’ve done one certain thing. I’ve gotten to see a broader spectrum of the Air Force.”
Though his experience with the Air Force has changed from year to year, location to location and assignment to assignment, he said his favorite part about being in the Air Force is the relationships he has built over the years.
“I have the best friends of my life from my earliest days at the Air Force Academy,” he said. “It’s that sense of shared sacrifice.”
Rhatigan said everyone in the Air Force can relate to one another when it comes to moving from base to base because every family has to go through so many changes.
“Every time you move, you incur so many costs, from silly stuff like the curtains from your old house don’t fit in your new one — the only other people who get that are people in the military,” he said.
The uncertainty that comes with being a part of the military is something that’s on Rhatigan’s mind from time to time.
“You don’t know when the next deployment is coming or when you’re going to have to move again,” he said. “That’s why the general public supporting us is so important. People don’t realize how hard it is to be deployed.”
Rhatigan said that during his most recent year of deployment, he missed a year with his wife and four young children.
“You don’t get that year back,” he said.
Though he’s already two months into his newest assignment, Rhatigan said, he’s still got a lot to learn.
“When you become the wing commander, your scope widens,” he said. “There’s so much to learn about the airmen we have and what they do, from public affairs to the medical community to our civil engineers to our contractors.”
He said he enjoys seeing the airmen perform specific tasks on the base and has the opportunity to do that in his new position.
“It’s a pretty unique position to be in to have this kind of influence and get to see that,” he said.
Although uncertainty comes with the job, Rhatigan said the people he comes in contact with inspire him to do a good job.
“[I tell people], ‘Your mission is difficult, dangerous and diverse, and it takes you away from those you love to serve those you don’t know at all,’” he said. “That’s the epitome of service.”
Zoned Editions Staff Writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.