New CC's focus: team play

Col. Andrea Tullos, 42nd Air Base Wing commander. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Andrea Tullos, 42nd Air Base Wing commander. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- As the new 42nd Air Base Wing commander, Col. Andrea Tullos is responsible for providing all base operational support, infrastructure and services for 42,000 Airmen and their families, students, contractors and retirees in direct support of Air University and the more than 40 other mission partners on Maxwell and Gunter Annex.

A lieutenant 22 years ago, the college athlete with a bachelor's in foreign affairs, specializing in Soviet and Eastern European political affairs, would have never thought she would be commanding a base. But a few moments in her career changed everything.

From small town in New Jersey, Tullos did not grow up in a military family. Her decision to join was influenced by Operation Desert Storm.

"I did not have really any thoughts of joining the military growing up. I don't remember being conscious of the opportunities that it presented as a career path, so it was a pretty big surprise to my family," Tullos said. "It's something that never crossed my mind until I was in college. In my senior year, Desert Storm kicked off and I started seeing the imagery coming back. I started watching what our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines were doing overseas."

About to graduate college, she realized it was time to gain real-world experience, and decided serving her country was the best way of doing so.
"When I first came in, similar to what's going on now, the Air Force was in the midst of a drawdown," she said.

She and a handful of trainees from her Officer Training School class were told two weeks before graduation that upon arrival to their first base they were to report to their mission support group commanders, who would determine the officers' jobs based upon the needs of the installations, she added.

She originally wanted to be an intelligence officer, but those slots were full; her second choice was security forces.

"I saw them out and about," Tullos said. "They were in the thick of everything. They were sharp, so I decided that's what I wanted to do, and the Air Force was kind enough to let me do it. I think it was the perfect place for me."

The camaraderie of the security forces, the discipline and the physicality appealed to her.
"You are tested and you have to be physically strong and healthy," she said. "It can be exhausting; it can be unbelievably physically tasking at times. Those are the types of things that energize me and motivate me."

To this day she says her assignment as a security forces operations officer was the best assignment she has had. After that, she almost left the military.

"When I joined, I did not plan on making it a career," Tullos said. "I was essentially out at one point. I had accepted a Foreign Service officer position with the State Department. I had a class start date, and I was ready to transition out [of the military]."

Then September 11 happened, and she was stop-lossed. Through that process, she reevaluated why it was she joined the Air Force and why she had made the decision to leave.

"I ended up turning it down. I came to realize the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, and I really liked what I was doing. I don't know that I would like doing something else as much as I enjoy what I'm doing now," she said.

It wasn't just what the military was doing; she took pride in the teamwork and resiliency displayed by the entire nation. Now as a military leader, she promotes the idea of teamwork and an individual's potential to enable a group to achieve a common goal.
To unlock this potential, she believes a few things are necessary.

"I probably tend to be a little bit more oriented to enforcing standards and ensuring that physical fitness and overall health is fundamental to our profession," Tullos said. They [the Air Force] have really gotten it right with resiliency; it makes you a better Airman. It makes you better prepared for the unexpected event that inevitably, if you stay in long enough, will happen during your career."

As a former athlete and coach, she said it frustrates her to watch people who have potential and do not know how to use it, don't have the discipline to make the most of it or don't have the desire to.

"It's painful for me to watch a team that is not well-functioning. I think the more effective we are as a team, the better we are at getting the mission done," she said. "At the end of the day, it's a dangerous business and there is more at stake than the final score."

She understands the importance of what Team Maxwell-Gunter means to the Air Force.
"We are delivering more capable air power for our country," she said. "We are producing leaders, and they are going to be out in the Air Force for years to come. Their influence is going to be exponential."

Her plan is to observe the wing to ensure Maxwell-Gunter continues to be the "best hometown in the Air Force."

"Part of my approach during the first few months is to really try and understand as best as I can the dynamic of the wing--what its strengths and weaknesses are. Until you know that, I don't know that you can really determine the most effective way to get it to be as productive as it can be," Tullos said.

"It is so important to me to get to know as many people as I can, because every single person contributes and they shape the overall," Tullos said. "I'll never have perfect information. But I have a team of great commanders underneath me who will know more than I will on any given day, and they have great leaders underneath them.

"I'm not sure that I've been on an installation that touches as large a population as the entire Air Force," she added. "Every single officer and most of our senior enlisted force who make a career of the Air Force will come through Maxwell-Gunter at some point, and we will have touched them. My vision is that we send them off as a better leader, and a better Airman than when they arrived."

Before coming to Maxwell, she served as chief of the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq Division, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Previously she served as the mission support group commander at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., supporting Air Combat Command's largest wing and has completed several squadron-level command tours.

"Colonel Tullos is an outstanding military leader," said Col. Mark Ramsey, 42nd ABW vice commander. "I'm looking forward to serving under her command as we continue to provide deployment ready Airmen to our combatant commanders, operate a world-class installation and develop tomorrow's leaders. I have every confidence that Maxwell-Gunter will continue to be 'the best hometown in the Air Force.'"