WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Col. Charles Barkhurst took his seat as the 88th Air Base Wing’s new vice commander July 1. Barkhurst joined the team from the Pentagon in Washington, where he served as senior military assistant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense Comptroller.
In the coming days, Airmen can expect to see the even-keeled problem-solver reading military history books, hitting some local trails, and offering “overarching” guidance that facilitates consistent and composed mission success at the wing and installation levels.
The command team’s newest member sat down for his first Skywrighter interview July 20 to discuss the experience and persona he will employ to help tackle the variety of issues a wing faces.
What is your initial impression of the wing and its people?
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is very different from other installations I’ve been stationed at. There’s a diversity of military personnel, civilians and contractors, which brings a high level of experience here. We have people who have worked at this location for decades, and we have a lot of folks in civil service who have retired from military service and may have 40 total years of experience.
What experience do you carry into this new position?
I’m a comptroller financial manager. I’ve been a comptroller squadron commander twice, in England and in Alaska. I was on the staff at U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa at Ramstein (Air Base, Germany) doing financial-management duties. And I worked at the Air Staff doing financial management as well, so I’ve done a lot of work in my field.
But I’ve also served as an executive officer at a wing. I worked at a (combatant command) doing resources. I was most recently on the Office of the Secretary of Defense staff as the senior military assistant. So I’ve done a lot of different types of things.
How might these experiences lend value to your vice position at the wing?
Financial manager comptroller Airmen are involved in a little bit of everything. We get to know a little bit about all the things that happen in the wing and on an installation. Having done that at the installation level twice — once in an air base wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska and also in England working as a comptroller — I got to really see how the mission works across the installation.
What has been your most interesting assignment, and what made it stand out?
I think my first squadron command at RAF Mildenhall (England) was my favorite because it was new being a squadron commander. It was exciting, and I had a great team. The location was awesome, the mission and the folks there, the tenant units and the home-station unit — we were all really tight. The families, spouses, our kids had a really great experience being overseas together. There were also a lot of good friends and travel opportunities.
Did you imagine the Air Force would be a long-term career when you entered 23 years ago?
I did. I worked in the civilian sector for a couple of years after college, and it really wasn’t for me. My dad was a career Air Force officer, and I decided that would be something that I would enjoy more. It felt like a mission I would like to pursue instead of just working for a company.
Can you tell us a little about your command philosophy and how you approach being a leader?
I’m looking to support the folks in the wing. My philosophy has been to provide overarching guidance that enables my subordinates to execute their mission successfully. As the vice commander, I see that as taking the wing commander’s guidance and then giving Airmen the resources, training and time to follow it and do their jobs.
What personality traits do you leverage to be a unique or strong leader?
I’d say I’m calm and even-keeled. Each day, you’re going to get the same thing from me. You’re not going to get the highs and lows, no matter what’s happening. I’ve been involved with a lot of interesting things, and that’s kind of been my modus operandi — to stay calm no matter what the adversity is.
What do you hope to accomplish over the next two years?
I want to support Col. (Patrick) Miller, and I want to support the wing mission to the best of my ability. That is my plan and goal.
Who do you count as the most influential people in your life, ones who enable you to do your job well?
I mentioned my father was an Air Force officer; I learned a lot from him. My wife and I have been together a long time, married for 25 years, and she’s been the bedrock for our family, making sure we all succeed. All three of my kids are in college now and doing well. My son is at the Air Force Academy, my middle daughter is learning to be a special-needs teacher to help others and my youngest wants to be an English teacher. They all inspire me to try to help people.
What is a book that influences how you lead and think?
I’ve read a lot of good books, but I would say “The Call Sign Chaos” by James Mattis and Bing West is a good one right now. Working at the Pentagon, I was lucky enough to watch how Secretary (James) Mattis dealt with problems. His book has been influential to me because he saw a lot of different types of challenges and succeeded in all of them using adaptive leadership, depending on the level where he was.
What keeps you up at night?
The issue of suicide concerns me. In Alaska, within six months, we lost a member of our unit, one of my friend’s high school children and one of my son’s football teammates to suicide, and none of them really exhibited those classic signs. And so that’s what worries me: people who don’t really show the signs that they may choose to take their life.
As many of the helping agencies here work under my purview, I’m interested in seeing what we can continue doing to help combat suicide.
What are your No. 1 priorities both on and off duty?
When I was a commander before, I had three things I always talked about: safety first, and then readiness because we’re here to do a mission, and then teamwork. We can’t succeed on our own.
Off duty, I try to have a good work-life balance. That was a little harder at the Pentagon, but I try to use all the pillars of resiliency to achieve it.
Out of uniform, how do you spend your time?
I like to travel and hike. We did a lot of hiking in Alaska, where I was stationed for three years. The North Fork at Eagle River was probably my favorite hike, but there are a lot of good trails up there.
I do a lot of reading, and I just like to hang out with my family. My youngest just moved off to college, so my wife and I are empty nesters now and like spending time together. Sometimes, I work out and play sports to burn off steam.
Is there anything else you’d like to note?
Wright-Patt is kind of like an old home for me, even though I never lived here as a military brat. My parents are from Ohio, and my mom was from Dayton, so I have family in the community, which is great. My grandfather actually was drafted into the civil service during World War II, when he worked as a mechanic here at Wright-Patt and then again in the Korean War on the Patterson side. Between my family and my roots, Wright-Patt feels like home.