Vice commander remembers on eve of retiring

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- One week. That is how much time Col. Thomas Bouthiller, vice commander of the 45th Space Wing, has until he joins the long blue line of Airmen who have retired from defending our nation.

Colonel Bouthiller will retire after 29 years of service in a ceremony June 15 at The Tides.

Colonel Bouthiller's Air Force career began with the dream of becoming a pilot. "I was always interested in flying, and I took flying lessons when I was a teenager," he said.

Colonel Bouthiller applied to the Air Force Academy and for an ROTC scholarship, but at the time his grades weren't sufficient, and lacking the money to immediately enter college, he enlisted in the Air Force in January 1978 to work toward a degree. When he joined, he didn't have a goal of becoming a colonel.

"I never had a long-term career plan," said Colonel Bouthiller. "My primary goal at the time was to try to figure out how to become a pilot."

Trained as an avionic navigation systems technician, Colonel Bouthiller was stationed at Rickenbacker AFB, Ohio, when he was selected to receive a commission under the Airman Scholarship Commission Program.

"The benefit of the program was that you didn't need any previous college credit, and in fact I didn't have any college at the time," said Colonel Bouthiller. In September 1979 he entered Ohio State University. It was around this time that Colonel Bouthiller's eyesight began to slip, which would eventually make him ineligible to become a pilot.

Regardless, he persevered and graduated in 1983 with a degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, serving in the Tactical Air Command, now known as Air Combat Command.

After four years as an engineer, Colonel Bouthiller learned about the stand-up of Air Force Space Command and the space operations career field. He decided to change careers, earning a master's degree in space operations from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

"I really enjoyed the flying culture and working with the fighter pilots in Tactical Air Command, but the reality was as an engineer I wouldn't have an opportunity to fly, so I wanted to look for a way to get into operations," said Colonel Bouthiller.

Colonel Bouthiller has served at several bases, including a tour at Patrick AFB from 1991 to 1993. In fact, his current assignment marks his 16th PCS move. He was present when the 45th Space Wing was first activated in November 1991. Having returned here in June 2006, Colonel Bouthiller said, "I was very pleased to see that a lot of the procedures we established had come to fruition."

Over the course of a 29-year career, one big change Colonel Bouthiller has seen in the Air Force is the focus on the expeditionary force.

"When I came in, remote assignments were the chief complaint, now our expeditionary focus has driven a real culture change," he said. "Our Airmen now think of themselves as warriors. I certainly think it's a change for the better."

When he retires from the Air Force, Colonel Bouthiller plans to stay in the Space Coast area. In addition to his and his wife Diane's numerous friends and their familiarity with the area, Colonel Bouthiller said he wants to stay because he intends to continue to work in support of our space launch mission, as a civilian government employee or a contractor. "I plan on making this my long-term home."