June, 21

The Student Becomes the Teacher: Reservist Relishes Role as His Former Military Boss’ Mentor at Civilian Airline

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It’s funny how life comes full circle sometimes. Just ask Col. Marc McAllister, an Air Force Reservist since 2006 who will be starting his new job as the IMA for the Capabilities Division, HQ USAF Stategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration, at the Pentagon in February.

A pilot by trade, McAllister was flying with the Reserve’s 927th Air Refueling Wing and serving as the commander of the 63rd Air Refueling Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida in 2019 when he learned that his incoming new boss, the commander of the 927th Operations Group, was an active-duty Airman by the name of Col. James Mach.

“To be honest, I was a little worried when I heard that we were getting an active-duty OG commander because I knew he would face many challenges in understanding and effectively leading a part-time force component,” McAllister said.

The colonel went on to say that it didn’t take long for him to realize that Mach was the perfect person for the job.

“In a very short period of time, it became clear that Col. Mach could see the differences between active and Reserve forces with a true desire to help foster a genuine integration,” McAllister said. “Total Force Integration is a great concept that sometimes becomes difficult in execution because it all boils down to the relationship between the commanders on both sides. If there is a good relationship, the TFI will flourish. If not, it doesn’t. It’s that simple.”

Mach, who spent 25 years on active duty – the last three as the 927th OG commander, said he cherished the time he spent as a Reserve operations group commander.

“I wish I had the opportunity to serve with a Reserve or Guard organization earlier in my career,” he said. “It would have broadened my perspective and influenced my effectiveness with duties and responsibilities while working at Air Mobility Command, U.S. Transportation Command and the Pentagon on Air Staff. I gained an appreciation for the challenges faced by our Reserve force and its members, which are far different than us on active duty.”

McAllister served under Mach for three years and said he learned a tremendous amount from his former boss.

“Col. Mach and I spent many hours discussing leadership, life and family,” he said. “Together, we were able to operate very effectively with our active-duty counterparts as well as within our own organization. He taught me so much over a three-year period that I credit many of my own successes to his teachings.”

“Col. McAllister was a true professional at all times during our tenure together,” Mach said. “We openly communicated, challenged each other with personnel and operational issues and always ensured the best for our people and our mission. I trusted him as a leader and gave him support with the direction he wanted to take the squadron. I served as his mentor and still do today.”

Early in 2022, McAllister moved to a new Reserve position at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquarters at Camp H.I. Smith, Hawaii.

“I didn’t think our paths would cross again until I received a call from him in the summer of 2022 telling me that he was retiring and had received a job offer from the same airline where I am employed,” McAllister said. “I was ecstatic with the news and wanted to explore the opportunity to mentor him because I knew this new career would be significantly different from anything he was used to.”

As an airline union representative, McAllister took Mach under his wing and mentored him in the same fashion that Mach had mentored him in the military.

“I was also fortunate that as a line check pilot, or training captain, I was assigned to conduct Jim’s initial aircraft training,” McAllister said. “Just as he was my instructor, now I have become his teacher in the ways of safe airline flying. It is an interesting reversal of roles that could only happen as a Citizen Airman.”

“Our union supports a mentorship program for all new pilots and they encourage using mentors as a resource,” Mach said. “Marc is my resource, my mentor. So while in the military, I served as his mentor and still offer and execute those services as he continues his military career, he reciprocates that service for me with the airlines. It’s the old ‘when the student becomes the teacher’ story, although while I was the teacher as an ops group commander, so very often I found myself being the student, learning the way of the Reserve.”

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