JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
As Col. Jeff Nelson’s most recent assignment to Charleston ends, he reflects on the accomplishments of the wing and marvels at how much things around the base and local area have changed in the 14 years since he was last stationed here.
But for all the differences, the similarities are equally striking. Charleston is where, as a lieutenant, Nelson met his wife and made lifelong friendships with fellow junior aviators who now serve alongside him in group and wing leadership roles.
“I grew up in the Air Force around a great group of peers and friends,” said Nelson. “It is interesting how our paths have crisscrossed over the years. As an example, Col. [Clinton] ZumBunnen, 437th Airlift Wing commander, Col. [Daniel] Dobbels, 437th Operations Group commander, and I were all lieutenants in the 17th Airlift Squadron here at what was then Charleston Air Force Base. Col. [Patrick] Winstead, 437th AW vice commander, was here in Charleston at the same time as well, although in a different squadron.”
In addition to his peers, Nelson’s family has served as his biggest mentors throughout his career. Nelson’s journey in the Air Force started long before he walked the halls of the U.S. Air Force Academy. As a kid, Nelson’s father, step-mother and step-father were all senior NCOs.
“My family’s service in the Air Force showed me what opportunities there were in the military as well as demonstrated to me the great camaraderie that exists within the Air Force,” said Nelson. “The old adage that a new lieutenant needs to find a good senior NCO to mentor and guide them has been true to me my whole life. There is a little rivalry in my family, but it is all in good fun.”
This familiarity inadvertently led him into a career with the Air Force when, as a high school freshman filling out a questionnaire about his career goals, Nelson was prompted to indicate which college he would like to attend. Unable to think of any others, he wrote down the Air Force Academy.
A few years later while preparing for a visit from the Air Force Academy Liaison Officer, his guidance counselor noticed his response and invited him to talk to the liaison officer, beginning his journey to the Air Force Academy.
Nelson would advise anyone entering military service to first explore all of the job opportunities the Air Force has to offer before deciding on one in particular.
“There are a lot of unique career fields in the Air Force,” said Nelson. “Once you get a job, do it to the best of your ability every day and look to make both yourself and the Air Force better.”
More than two decades later, Nelson said he continues to serve because of the people he meets every day who are excited about their jobs and how they support the defense of our nation.
“I would like to thank the men and women of the 628th Air Base Wing for all the hard work they accomplish every day in support of the many missions on Joint Base Charleston. I would also like to thank my wife, Courtney, and our kids, for their support as I sometimes sacrificed time with them due to my job.”
From the outside looking in, Nelson’s time as commander may be remembered for standing up to tests from Mother Nature in the form of two hurricanes and the area’s biggest snowstorm in 30 years, but Nelson feels there’s more than that.
“I will remember my time in Charleston as a great assignment filled with exceptional people and great missions,” said Nelson. “From building relationships with the mission partners across the base, engaging with local community leaders, improving base access, improving school access for military dependents, advocating for infrastructure improvements across the base, easing truck congestion at base gates, safely accomplishing the first air show in seven years, receiving an “effective” rating during our Unit Effectiveness Inspection, to improving our readiness, many of these accomplishments are small steps to improve the ability of the Joint Base Charleston team to do their jobs.”
As Nelson prepares to depart, bringing his “working toward yes” mantra to Travis Air Force Base, California, where he will command the 60th Air Mobility Wing, he hopes to have steered the base toward a future of successes; setting up future leaders who, like him 14 years ago, will lead the installation in the years to come.
“It has been an honor and privilege to work alongside you every day accomplishing the installation support mission,” said Nelson. “I am confident the mission of the 628th Air Base Wing is in great shape for the future.”