Passion to serve, stories to share

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Emily Seaton
  • 20th Air Force

As 2021 came to an end, 20th Air Force welcomed Col. Mark Richey to the leadership team as the new mobilization assistant to the 20th Air Force commander. This interview just scratches the surface of Col. Richey’s experiences in the civilian, active duty and reserve realms.

Q. Where do you call home?

A. I was born and raised in Chico, California.

Q. Can you please share a little bit about your family?

A. I have two children, ages 5 and 7.

Q. What inspired you to join the Air Force and go to Officer Training School?

A. I had a wonderful corporate job before I joined the Air Force. I was on a business trip in Jakarta, Indonesia and had an epiphany: we are so fortunate to live in this amazing country of ours. I had always had a strong sense of patriotism, and love of country, with Grandparents who were immigrants. This epiphany led me to go right to the recruiter’s office when I came back from that trip. The odds were greatly stacked against me getting a pilot slot, so I also spoke to the Army recruiter and had him prepare a package for me to be a tank commander, in the likely event I did not get selected. I was just bursting at the seams with a desire to serve, and it was going to happen, no matter the job, service, location, etc. I am thankful it worked out the way it did.

Q. How did you choose the Reserves?

A. I was active duty special operations for ten years. I had an amazing active duty career, and wouldn’t change it for anything. I had some desires to pursue business opportunities outside of active duty, but still had the internal requirement to continue to serve. The guard/reserves offered me the opportunity to do both. To this day, my service to country is still what I’m most passionate about, despite being blessed with a fantastic civilian career that I am very thankful for.

Q. What is the best experience or opportunity you have had through the Air Force?

A. I couldn’t have scripted my career any better, in terms of feeling like I was making an impact in the defense of my country. There are so many experiences that I would consider remarkable, through ten combat deployments in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, and OPERATION NORTHERN WATCH. I would say that one particular mission stands out as something that I consider to be extremely meaningful in a sea of meaningful experiences. While in Special Ops, I was able to lead my crew through a rather harrowing rescue mission where we were given official credit for saving 14 lives. The details of the mission were surreal, but I’ll save that for anytime anyone would like to have a beverage at the end of the day and discuss it.

Q. What is your civilian career?

A. I am an airline captain at Southwest Airlines.

Q. What is the role of a mobilization assistant?

A. There are a lot of different definitions floating around for what a mobilization assistant does. My goal is to be the “reinforcement” for Maj. Gen. Lutton. Specifically, my efforts will be focused on developing the skills, acumen and awareness to be able to be a backstop, or surge suppressor, for him. The desired steady state of my presence is that I can step in where he needs additional capabilities to accomplish the no-fail, vital mission of 20 AF and the wings within. All of this, while maintaining a lower-cost solution by being available for full-time efforts if needed, but operating under a part-time budget during periods of lower need.

Q. What are you most excited for as you join the 20th Air Force team?

A. I am most excited about the mission, and the team who executes it. I’ve had the opportunity to train, exercise and posture for nuclear deterrence at the strategic level, as I was a Command Center Director at North American Aerospace Defense Command-U.S. Northern Command. Being able to work at the operational level in this realm is an opportunity that I couldn’t have even dreamed up. I am personally thankful to all the nuclear deterrence warriors for what they do for our country, and more specifically my family. To be able to be a part of this mission and work with the folks who are incredibly professional at the 24/7/365 no-fail mission is an honor that is hard to describe.