KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Taking command of a squadron comes with challenges, but to come into a Reserve squadron as an active-duty service member has its own unique opportunity.
Lt. Col. Matthew Sikkink, who assumed command of the 815th Airlift Squadron, Flying Jennies, on June 6, 2019, said that he was pleasantly surprised at what he walked into when he arrived at the 815th AS.
“To come into a job where your squadron is running on all cylinders, it’s the best thing you can inherit,” said Sikkink. “It’s amazing being around such a tight group of individuals who all want to be here.”
Sikkink, an active-duty C-130 pilot with more than 2,400 flight hours, came to the 403rd Wing after serving as the Chief of Safety at the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan. Before that, he worked in the White House Military Office and at the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force in Washington D.C.
“I saw immediately how much comradery there is in within this unit,” he said. “Everyone is proud to be a Flying Jenny; we’ve all got stickers, license plates, shirts, and hats plus they love what they do.”
The 815th AS is an Air Force Reserve Command tactical airlift unit that transports supplies, equipment and personnel into a theater of operation. The unit received the first C-130J Super Hercules aircraft in the Air Force inventory in 1999, and the 403rd Wing flies and maintains 20 of those aircraft, with 10 of those aircraft being flown by the Flying Jennies.
“(Air Mobility Command) was able to provide this leadership opportunity for me and fill a command need for (Air Force Reserve Command) at the same time,” said Sikkink. “It’s a win-win, because I get to learn about the Reserve, but at the same time I am still connected with my active-duty commanders.”
Sikkink is the second active-duty commander for the Flying Jennies. Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, 403rd Operations Group commander, now an Air Reserve Technician, was the first active-duty commander for the unit during its rebuilding in 2016.
“He has been awesome,” said Rubio. “He brings with him a great wealth of knowledge on both the C-130 tactical airlift mission and his experience with the larger strategic perspective from his time in Washington D.C. He understands how big Air Force works and bringing that here is a positive for the 815th.”
Rubio said he is exceptionally suited for this command and he equates the transition from active-duty to Reserve to learning a foreign language.
“It takes a very specific personality to come from active-duty and integrate well into a Reserve squadron,” Rubio said. “He has picked it up a much faster than I did, he’s speaking the language well in his first six months. He’s really jumped into the Reserve world and done well to understand the unique challenges reservists face.”
For Sikkink, having to learn the differences between the active-duty and Reserve has been eye-opening.
“Coming from active-duty, you don’t understand the unique challenges of a reservist because you’re not in the Reserve,” he said. “You’re not concerned about what kind of pay-status you’re in, or how I need to stop my civilian job to do duty. I think it’s much more difficult as a reservist to find that work-life balance.”
Since June, the Flying Jennies have participated in three exercises: Swift Response and Silver Arrow in the European area of responsibility, and Artic Anvil out of the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, Miss.
In addition, the Jennies supported humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and provided logistical airlift support for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron in their forward operating locations.
“The best part of my job is seeing the unit come together to get a mission done. Any joint exercise, such as Swift Response, Silver Arrow, and more; this team absolutely knocks it out of the park,” said Sikkink. “It’s an amazing feeling of pride you feel seeing your unit do great.”
Sikkink said that he and the unit are excited for what the future holds, specifically Cope North, a multinational joint exercise out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
“We’re looking forward to participating in the Pacific theater and have the opportunity to learn from new ideas and experiences,” he said.
Sikkink communicated that although he has had a steep learning curve in the Reserve culture, he appreciates all of his Airmen and their dedication.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for how our reservists are able to handle the mission,” Sikkink said. “They’re here because they want to be, they don’t have to do this. They could do something else if they wanted, but they like being here. They like being part of the 403rd Wing and being part of the Flying Jennies mission.”