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Midwest Roots to Commander Boots

SWANTON, Ohio -- A new leader has assumed command the 180th Fighter Wing and a new set of expressions can be heard around the base; phrases ranging from describing Airmen as "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" to "it's like a pig staring at a wristwatch" to describe when you don't know what you're looking at, or "long in the tooth" to describe someone's age.

One of six children, Col. Kevin V. Doyle grew up in Oldenburg, Indiana, a small town with a strong German heritage. He grew up playing football, baseball and wrestling. On Sundays, he would watch old World War II movies with his father, who served in the U.S. Navy.

Doyle said those movies played a role in his decision to enlist in the military, specifically the U.S. Marine Corps, which he saw as a challenge and test of physical and mental endurance. His childhood and early experiences impacted the rest of his choices in life.

"If it wasn't for that type of upbringing and the small-town work ethic, plus what I learned I could achieve by making it through Marine training, then I might not have made the choices or taken the chances I did later on. It taught me that you can accomplish almost anything you want to with just a lot of effort."

Doyle spent five of his 33 years in the military as an enlisted Marine in the infantry. He began as active duty, but transferred to the reserves to attend Vincennes University, where he met his wife and earned his certification as a flight instructor. After graduating with an Associate of Science in Aviation Flight Technology, he attended the Marine officer training at Quantico, Virginia.

He crossed over to the Air National Guard in 1991 because he dreamed of flying, but at the time, pilots required 20/20 vision, so while studying aerospace technology and aviation administration at Indiana State University, he applied to be a weapons systems officer with the Indiana ANG. He was selected two weeks later.

"It was one of the toughest decisions I ever made," Doyle said of his decision to switch services. "The difference between the Marines and the Air National Guard wasn't as drastic as I thought it was going to be, because a lot of the guys I was flying with had active-duty experience. It was very much a mix of different cultures, but there were some great benefits to it. It was very family oriented and the guard really takes care of their people."

Doyle began his career in the ANG as a weapons systems officer for the F-4 Phantom II. When the F-4 was phased out, he went back for pilot training. His previous experience as a navigator exempted him from the 20/20 vision requirement for pilots. His career as a pilot began with the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but he's also piloted the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

During his career as a pilot, Doyle has flown over 100 combat missions. Most of his deployments overseas were in the F-16, but he also had one deployment in the A-10 to Kandahar in 2011. He said the most important part of flying combat missions for him was to provide close air support to the troops on the ground.

"A lot of people think it's about dropping bombs and shooting the guns, but what I realized is, it's about being there and providing support," Doyle said. "Some of my more fulfilling sorties were just showing up and listening to the guy on the radio who's very excited and tense, because they're getting shot at, and you start talking to them and reassuring them in a slow, steady voice and you can hear them regaining their composure. Sometimes, the jet noise from a show of force is enough to make the bad guys stop, or it gives our guys a chance to break contact and get away. That's what I signed up for. If I can go out and help somebody make it home, that's what made it all worth it."

Taking care of the troops is a value Doyle cares deeply about and he makes it his priority as a leader.

"Your first reaction can't be to think about yourself first," he said. "It's always about somebody else, as you move up in leadership, your job is always about somebody else. My job as the commander is to provide programs, or support programs to help our Airmen. If we can do that, we can address most of the issues that lead to losing people, short of retirement."

Taking care of Airmen is only one of his many leadership principles. He also believes in leading by example and leading from the front.

"As an officer, as a supervisor, as a senior non-commissioned officer, we need to lead from the front," he said. "It's hard to direct people when they have to keep looking back over their shoulder."

Doyle spent 10 years at the 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne, Indiana prior to taking his position as the 180FW commander. Doyle said he wanted to come to the 180FW because of its stellar reputation and because of the Midwest culture and work ethic.
Doyle believes the 180FW leadership team has the unit set up for success. His first goal as the new commander is to take care of the Airmen. He said one of the ways to accomplish that is to make sure we focus on training more during unit training weekends and spend less time on the things that take Airmen away from their primary duties and responsibilities.

"I'm watching, listening and learning how the wing is currently operating," Doyle said. "As we go forward, we'll see how we can focus our efforts on critical areas. My goal is to set our priorities where they need to be."

He also said the F-35 Lightning II is going to remain a priority for the wing, but even if the wing isn't selected for the F-35 mission there are other options that he intends to pursue.

"Even if we aren't selected as one of the next F-35 units, it's not a loss," Doyle said. "I see positive things across the board. I have no concerns for our future here in the near-term, or even in the long-term. If we aren't selected this round, it doesn't mean we're done. This is going to be an ongoing process. We're looking at multiple paths to make us viable, and our key to success is our history, our record and our Airmen."

While confident the 180FW is the best choice for F-35 because of our stellar track record, outstanding Airmen and unparalleled community support, he said he doesn't foresee the wing losing the ACA mission, and it's likely more F-35 units will be established around 2024 or 2026, so even if the wing isn't selected for this next round of F-35 basing, there will be more opportunities in the future.

Aside from the new expressions, the thing that stands out most about Doyle is his dedication to his Airmen.

"I'm excited and happy to be here at the 180th," he said.  "I'm honored to be the new commander."