We are pleased to continue our new series – CEO Spotlight – where we interview the leaders of key industries across Avista’s service territory. We’ll discuss the current state of the industry, challenges, opportunities, and of course, the role of energy.
In this issue, meet Colonel Cassius Bentley, Commander of the 92d Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base. As the largest employer in Eastern Washington, Fairchild is one of the most significant drivers of economic and community vitality in the greater Spokane region. With his tour of duty as Fairchild’s Wing Commander coming to a close, this dynamic leader shares his thoughts about his airmen, the mission and lessons learned.
Located on 6,000 acres just west of Spokane, Fairchild Air Force Base is home to the 92d Air Refueling Wing (host wing), the 141st Air Refueling Wing (Washington Air National Guard), the 336th Training Group, the Armed Forces Reserve Center and 15 additional tenant organizations/mission partners. Team Fairchild encompasses more than 7,500 active duty, reserve members and civilian employees.
As the Air Force’s Super Tanker Wing, the 92d Air Refueling Wing maintains and operates 68 KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, delivering the core air refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force for more than 60 years. The Wing provides global reach airpower and deploys expeditionary forces in support of worldwide combat, contingency and humanitarian requirements.
“We’re always deployed,” said Col. Cassius Bentley. “We’re always on alert with Operation Double Eagle and we’re the Air Force’s 911 call for tankers.”
Col. Bentley took command of Fairchild AFB during the height of the pandemic. He acknowledges that it has been a challenging two years fighting through the pandemic and maintaining mission resiliency, especially when the mental health of his airmen was suffering. In talking with him, it is clear airmen are his top priority. In fact, his greatest joy has been seeing his airmen succeed.
“I’m really proud of our team’s effort and their initiative to change how we operate - to think differently about how we fight,” he smiled. “It’s pretty impressive what the team has accomplished over the past two years. In spite of the pandemic we had every inspection possible from higher headquarters and the team crushed it!”
“Training our airmen to be the best in their jobs is critical,” Col. Bentley explained. “Quality of life is also important. We don’t want airmen to worry about where their kids are going to go to school, where are they going to live, can they afford things, so we’re really working a lot in that area.”
Another area of focus is energy. Fairchild has collaborated with the other Washington State military installations on the topic and has implemented a variety of conservation measures including LED lights and electric vehicles.
“We do a lot of great things with energy,” he smiled. “We recently started StratoFI!, our innovation cell. We are looking at ways to collaborate because the more we share the smarter we can do things. We are definitely hyper-focused on energy. We are continually asking ‘how do we get greener while also maintaining resiliency and redundancy’?”
Col. Bentley had high praise for the community’s support of Fairchild and noted that a base’s culture has much to do with the community it is in.
“Operation Fly Together with the Spokane Indians is fantastic and shows the community really cares about the base and we care too, which is why we did the Skyfest airshow,” he smiled.
He proudly noted that the base generated just under $600 million in economic impact in 2021, primarily from payroll, contract expenditures and the value of job creation.
“We do a lot of things like hiring people with disabilities and contracting with local small businesses,” Col. Bentley explained. “And with only 541 houses on base, we live in the community and have a lot of retirees that want to stay here, too.”
Reflecting back on the past two years, Col. Bentley shared some of the lessons he’s learned as a military leader.
“You have to be present,” he quickly answered, describing one of his favorite activities is going around the base and talking with airmen. “I think people really want three things. They want to be valued. They want to understand the ‘why’ so I answer their questions. And challenge them. We have amazing airmen and it’s ok if they try something and it doesn’t work because you learn a lot through failures.”
“Oh, and don’t change who you are,” he smiled. “Be you.”
After 24 years in the Air Force, Col. Bentley and his family are preparing for his next assignment as Deputy Director of the Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base in southern Illinois. A Kentucky native, Col. Bentley received his commission through ROTC and graduated from the University of Kentucky and Centre College with dual engineering degrees. He has served in assignments all over the world including as the Vice Wing Commander at the 100th Air Refueling, Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom just prior to his assignment at Fairchild. Col. Bentley is a command pilot, having logged more than 4,400 hours in the KC-135, C-17, T-1 and T-37.
Incoming Wing Commander Col. Chesley Dycus takes command of Fairchild Air Force Base on July 25. Colonel Dycus officially received his commission from the United States Air Force Academy in May 2000. Prior to arriving to Fairchild Air Force Base, his assignments include multiple positions in operational units, squadron command, and staff officer duties at Headquarters Air Mobility Command and The White House.
Colonel Dycus served as a National Defense Fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where he provided Air Force and joint military expertise for research and analysis supporting U.S. leaders to help shape and implement national security strategy.