Meet the Howards: Service, duty, balance, humor shape character, leadership styles

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- For Col. John Howard and his wife, Dana, the adventure of coming to Scott AFB to lead the 375th Air Mobility Wing will be met with how they tackle all things in their life: together, with balance, and with a sense of humor.

Since taking command of the wing on July 24, personnel have already begun to see the colonel’s fun side. As he visits with Airmen and poses for pictures—clearly towering over most everyone with his 6’4” height—he posts them on his new Twitter account: @375AMWCC.

His feed is quickly gaining traction as he wishes happy birthday to a young lieutenant or highlight’s a team in playful banter or posts about that time he jumped into the pool after the boat regatta race with the outdoor recreation director. That sense of humor, he said, is really just a byproduct of hard work and teamwork, both which are just as equally important to him.

He learned to work hard and cultivate a team from the examples of his own parents and from his in-laws, all of whom were service oriented and patriotic to the core. His dad, Matthew Howard, was an Army field artillery officer who served multiple tours in Vietnam and his mother, Joan, a teacher.

He said his father’s “very seasoned experiences” from the war provided much wise counsel for him during his Air Force career that is still “incredibly valuable.” After retirement from the Army, his dad became a teacher and when he was encouraged to retire earlier than he did, he would say, “No, the youth of America still need us.”

Dana’s father served in the Air Force and the California Air National Guard and during her high school years encouraged her to work on base washing dishes to learn discipline. It was from her experiences working there, along with being in a family who served in the military, which prompted her to enlist at 17.

Fast forward to today and she is a retired Air Force colonel in her own right who ultimately spent time as an enlisted AGE troop and officer in munitions & aircraft maintenance serving in the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and on active-duty.

For the commander, the desire to fly was sparked because of his dad’s love for aviation, and after his father gifted him a flight as a young teenager, he was hooked. He would go on to get his private pilot’s license at 16 and blend his love of flying with service to join the Air Force to become a pilot, though not by a direct route.

After joining ROTC and earning a math degree from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., he was commissioned in 1994 as an acquisitions officer and served in that capacity for four years. It was during this time in the Air Force when pilot positions were sparse, and he recalled how he applied every year for four years to get a pilot slot until he was finally accepted in 1998.

“I use this story to tell people to make the Air Force tell you no,” he explained. “Apply and keep on trying ... the worst that can happen is that they tell you no, but just keep on trying. For me, there were (several other requirements) I needed to do to be competitive, so I just did them until it finally worked.”

It was during his time in acquisitions when he met Dana, who was at the time serving on a career broadening assignment while at McClellan AFB, Calif. She had earned her degree and commissioned as an active-duty officer when their paths crossed in the hallway of the building they both worked in.

The commander noticed her right away when she made her initial entrance as he worked with another Airman to update a felt signage board in the unit. Upon seeing her, he accidentally dumped a box of letters he was using onto the ground.

“Smooth move, boys,” she quipped.

Efforts to overcome that first impression with her soon warmed to a hearty friendship, mutual admiration and love. When he was accepted to pilot training, they were faced with the tough PCS dilemma of how best to keep a relationship going when only one person receives orders. For the Howards, the relationship and being together won out. They got married on the San Antonio Riverwalk and Dana transitioned into the Reserves.

Even with working to avoid the dual military service conflicts, they and their two children—Emily, 21, and Kevin, 18—have spent long periods of time apart due to deployments and other mission requirements. Assignments have taken the family to Texas, California, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., and England where they just came from. During that time there were two, year-long deployments for the commander to Afghanistan. This is their first time being stationed at Scott.

“I’m tremendously proud of our children,” said Dana. “As we come into John taking command, we’re almost empty nesters—Kevin goes to college and Emily just graduated from college. They’ve certainly taken one for the team ... for the Air Force really. Kevin went to three high schools, and during Emily’s high school years John was deployed or gone most of the time. They have made tremendous sacrifices as military kids. They are incredibly resilient and amazing people, and the light of our lives.”

As their children are away building their futures, Dana said she looks forward to becoming immersed in programs which encourage and empower Scott AFB Airmen and their families. Meanwhile, while the commander sent his first leadership intent to the wing to expand on his philosophy of working hard, investing in outstanding Airman and ensuring balance in life.

He explained that, “of course the mission—to fly, fight and win, is why we are here. And, we’re the best Air Force in the world because of the outstanding Airmen and their families. Because of what they do and the sacrifices they make, we are able to execute the nation’s objectives. The key point, I believe, is balance. We need to keep in mind to recharge our batteries when time and conditions permit. We need to do that or we’ll be burned out ... not ready or able do our mission. I hope to demonstrate that balance between work and life, and to show that it’s not just a great place to work, but a great place to have fun ... because at the end of the day, we want to enjoy this life.”

And you’ll see both of them doing just that while walking their two Airedale terriers Lucky and Cali, serving as parade marshals for a local homecoming parade or preparing the wing for an upcoming Unit Effectiveness Inspection. Together, and with the "showcase team," the Howards are off to a great start.