Infinite Victories: Tell me a bit about the Vikings?
Lt Col Kristen Thompson: The 960th AACS Vikings are one of the newest operation squadrons in the 552 Air Control Wing, certainly one of the squadrons that go out and fly the AWACS more as a combat line squadron. We’re completely geared towards combat operations. Everything we do in the squadron is geared towards training and being a better operator so when we go into combat, we go there and kick tail.
Infinite Victories: What’s an experience that has influenced your approach to leadership today?
Lt Col Kristen Thompson: Towards the end of a deployment at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in the Middle East, I got a call from my mom about my dad’s brain cancer relapsing, except this time, it was terminal. I had not been home in 3 years due to living overseas and on the deployment. I’m the junior to my dad. He and I were very, very close. It was very hard for me to go through that.
This is a sad story, but it has made me more empathetic as a leader. I had senior leaders take very good care of me. I feel like I personally owe them for life for what they did to help me to make it home, to make sure I saw my dad before he died. I feel forever indebted to them for it. After that experience, I’m now so much more empathetic towards people’s lives in general. Specifically, in my job now, I don’t just run things from an ops perspective. My chief concern is health, morale, and welfare of my Airmen and my Vikings’ family members.
Being a squadron commander is the best job in the Air Force. I’m at a level now where I get to fly, but I also get to take really good care of people I supervise. This is a critical time where I can really make a difference in people’s lives because I have so many daily interactions on a personal level with folks. That part for me is the pinnacle of everything, to be able to help and influence so many people. That’s something I take great pride in.
Infinite Victories: Tell me about an unusual experience.
Lt Col Kristen Thompson: I got to fly and land the first NATO E-3 in Afghanistan. What was actually great about it was all the different nations all contributing to one mission. We were all from diverse cultures, training, backgrounds, and approaches to problems. I had 9 different nationalities on board with me, all devoted to flying a command and control mission in Afghanistan, and all under the spirit of NATO fighting in Afghanistan. It really celebrates how far we’ve come with NATO.