A life of service: Air Force colonel's journey

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- As a child, Col. Robyn Slade, 50th Space Wing senior individual mobilization augmentee to the commander, never imagined she would make the U.S. Air Force her life-long career.

Growing up in the outskirts of Detroit, Slade was the youngest of three children. From an early age, her parents provided her with a stable foundation and inspiration to shoot for her dreams, no matter what the obstacle may be.

“I learned about hard work from my parents,” Slade said. “My dad started his own company and worked really hard to establish his business, and my mom went back to nursing school when I started kindergarten. They were both good examples of setting your mind to something and getting it done.”

Even though she never envisioned herself in the military, Slade had the opportunity to attend college on an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship. She graduated from Boston University in 1987 and started her Air Force career shortly after.

Slade’s first assignment took her to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, as a public affairs officer and chief of media relations.

“I loved being in that role and fell in love with the mission,” she said. “I always enjoyed being out on the flightline, and going on deployments and exercises.”

Slade spent two years as a public affairs officer, but had dreams to fly.

“One day, one of the squadron commanders I knew, said to me, ‘If this is what you really like, you should apply for pilot training.’ So I did.”

Initially, Slade did not meet the pilot training board, but this not deter her from pursuing her dream.

“When I didn’t meet the board, they gave me advice to earn my private pilot’s license in order to demonstrate that I had the skills,” she said.

Six months later, after earning her license, she was picked up on the board and went on to complete undergraduate pilot training.

“What drew me to it was the mission,” Slade said. “I really like to see the mission get done and I know there are a lot of ways to do that; however, it’s really interesting when you fly. There’s always different challenges that come up. I enjoyed being able to do that.”

Her career as a pilot took her to several bases such as Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan, Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota and McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey.

Becoming an officer and pilot was the beginning of a career that would take her to an array of assignments, which includes being a KC-135 aircraft commander, 21st Air Force assistant chief of training and deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements at Headquarters Air Force.

After 14 years of serving on active duty and having her second child, Slade made the decision to join the Air Force Reserve. She joined a reserve unit closest to her hometown, which was Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan.

“Robyn is an incredible officer, wife and mother,” said Col. Stephen Slade, 310th Operations Group commander. “She is living proof that you can have a very successful career and family life.  When we had our first child, she realized she wanted to be a mom, but also had a desire to continue serving. Joining the reserve allowed her to continue flying and raise our children.”

While many assignments are memorable for her, there’s one in particular that stands out above the rest.

“Between 2008 and 2011, I worked on the Joint Staff,” Slade said. “Everybody there was so focused on making sure that the warfighter had everything they needed. We made sure we sent the right people to the right place and that they had the equipment they needed. It was interesting to work directly for the chairman and to know what his vision was and see things get done so quickly. That meant so much to me to have that opportunity.”

Throughout the years, Slade said one of her biggest inspirations was, and still is, her husband.

“It’s almost like my husband and I grew up together in the Air Force,” she said. “It’s been amazing to have someone who understands what you do and can share things with. I really trust his judgement and have benefitted from that.”

Their concurrent service could lead some to be competitive.

“Serving with Robyn has been incredible,” Stephen said. “She is a magnificent mentor and wingman who has always been willing to provide help and guidance so others could be successful.  Additionally, her drive and passion for service has motivated people to excellence. I have always been in awe of her professional qualities and realized early on that I could never compete with her, rather I've been willing to just try and keep up.”

She continues to leave an impact on those she has worked with, including 1st Lt. Michael Brifneck, chief, Commander’s Action Group.

“Colonel Slade has been awesome to work alongside with”, he said. “We’ve talked about her career, as well as mine. I hope to work at the Pentagon one day; I think a lot of that has to do with her positive comments about her time spent there. I definitely wish she was staying at the wing for a longer time. She will be missed.”

After 30 years of service in the Air Force, Slade is retiring June 1 and her ceremony will take place May 23.

With vast knowledge and experience under her belt, Slade has sound advice for Airmen just starting their careers.

“The most important thing is to focus on the job you have now, and be good at it,” she said. “If you see opportunities that you would like to have, go for it. Always believe that what you want to do is in your reach.”

With only a couple of days to go before Slade closes this chapter in her Air Force story, she reflected back on her career and achievements.

“I never thought I would spend my whole life serving in the Air Force,” she said. “I could never have dreamed of all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve done. It seemed like I always got back more than I gave. Everything good I have now, came from the Air Force.”