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Once an Air Commando, always an Air Commando: retired Maj. Gen. Kingsley visits Cannon

  • Published
  • By Davin Perry
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Historian

Retired Maj. Gen. Michael Kingsley visited Cannon AFB Oct. 5, 2023, to speak at the 318th Special Operations Squadron’s heritage day. Kingsley told Air Commandos about the lessons his Air Force career afforded him, including service in Panama and the Middle East. He culminated the day answering questions from young Air Commandos about life, leadership and the value of personal relationships.

Kingsley graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from California State University at Sacramento in Sacramento, Calif, in 1983. In 1984, an unstable job market pushed Kingsley into the office of a local Air Force recruiter who encouraged him to become a pilot. Kingsley agreed, departing for Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in 1988, followed by pilot training and advanced training.  He described his initial introduction to the Air Force as a “peacetime” venture, one which he longed to exchange for adventure. His opportunity would come in the winter of 1989.

In 1989, Kingsley deployed to Panama with the 20th Special Operations Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Florida., as part of a larger U.S. military effort to hunt Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega. After three weeks of daytime missions, Noriega was successfully captured and Kingsley was more prepared for his next test: Desert Storm.

After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, he refused to listen to international demands for Iraq’s immediate military withdrawal. As a result, American forces were tasked to remove the Iraqi forces and restore order. Just days after the birth of his first son, Kingsley’s squadron commander, Lt. Col. Richard Comer, order him to cut his leave short so he could deploy with the 20th SOS. In Kuwait, Kingsley and the other MH-53 pilots utilized the helicopter’s specialized night vision capability to conduct infiltration and exfiltration missions. The squadron’s operational success while escorting Army Apache and Blackhawk helicopters on a mission to destroy Iraqi communication equipment led to the justification for expanded night vision capabilities on other military aircraft.

Kingsley’s 20th century experiences shaped his career, but the morning of 9/11 forever altered its path. Kingsley, by then commander of the 20th SOS, recalled having a paintball match between squadron officers and enlisted airmen the morning of the attack. Just a day prior, he held an “all call” for families to discuss concerns and grievances. Although the footage of the attacks incited rage and disbelief, Kingsley knew it was his duty as a commander to remain stoic and execute his duties responsibly. The 20th SOS arrived at Ground Zero on Sept. 12, to deliver supplies and retrieve survivors, using the USS Intrepid as a staging location off the 42nd Street Pier. Kingsley recalled that Naval planes were moved to the lower decks to make room for his unit’s MH-53s to land. The images of stateside destruction would stay with him during his coming deployment to Afghanistan as Special Operations Air Command commander and following years of war.

During his visit, Kingsley told Cannon Air Commandos that his leadership approach was always that of mild manner and trust, charging each leader and Airman to master their trade. He emphasized that leadership is not a solo venture, but a team endeavor that requires keeping a small circle of people you can depend on to perform the mission.

“Not every Airmen will want to retire as an Air Force commander or senior enlisted leader, but provide the best guidance as possible, much like Lt. Col. Richard Comer inspired me.”

Kingsley is a Hall of Fame member of the Air Commando Association, an honor afforded to only 201 other inductees. He currently serves as an adjunct research member for Institute for Defense Analyses and makes quarterly visits to Tunisia.