“We launch missiles like the Delta IV Heavy, which has a thrust equivalent to nearly eight Boeing 747’s strapped together. What kid doesn’t dream of growing up and doing that?” – Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith
Wayne Monteith, Commander of Patrick Air Force Base, is a model leader and someone who appreciates the support the base gets from the local community.
It is almost a worn-out cliché, until you find it embodied in a person, “If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.” Of course, it goes without saying there are many challenges Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, the commander of Patrick Air Force Base (PAFB), has to deal with every day. But those duties are all mitigated by the thrill of putting most of America’s most vital payloads into space.
“We launch missiles like the Delta IV Heavy, which has a thrust equivalent to nearly eight Boeing 747’s strapped together,” he said. “What kid doesn’t dream of growing up and doing that?”
Monteith’s enthusiasm is infectious as he describes the activities of 45th Space Wing, which he oversees, along with Canaveral Air Force Station and the Eastern Range. He seems to revel in sharing both the pride and the opportunities serving in the Air Force has provided, along with the place the PAFB has as a part of this community and Brevard’s history.
“Patrick,” as most people in the area call it, was established as a Naval Air Station in 1940 and was transferred to the Air Force in 1948. The impact it has had and continues to exert on the trajectory of the area is incalculable. The base not only employs more than 13,000 active duty and civilian personnel, it is also a magnet for the Space Coast’s robust military retiree community.
For Monteith, the position he holds is not only the capstone on a distinguished career, it is a dream fulfilled and one which, when he began, he never thought was within his reach. ▸
A Different Track
Though born in England, Hickam Air Force Base near Honolulu is home to most of Monteith’s early memories. He was a standout cross-country runner, which is still a passion today, though he credits his knees for his transition to biking. College drew him from the island paradise to attend the University of New Mexico, where he also met his wife Gina. Commenting on the change in scenery, he said, smiling, “New Mexico is a beautiful state with plenty of beach, just no water.”
This is where his story departs from the norm for most military officers. An exceptional student, Monteith decided to leave the university for six years to pursue other opportunities, but returned to UNM with a wife and two children to finish his degree. On a whim, he decided to explore the Air Force ROTC program and aced the exam. Yet, as fate would have it, he was too old to go to flight school but realized being in the Air Force was more important to him than being a pilot, and thus his journey began.
“Being an officer is a young man’s game,” he said. “I was commissioned at 29 and was six to seven years behind my cohorts.”
However, his maturity, work ethic and academic performance made a dramatic impact on his advancement. “I was married, raising kids and had worked two jobs while going to school,” he said. “For me, my first duty assignment was like taking a breather. Working long and hard was my norm, plus they were paying me to study.”
That focus led to him being the Distinguished Graduate of his initial missile training school; similar results in other leadership and training experiences followed.
“I was married, raising kids and had worked two jobs while going to school. For me, my first duty assignment was like taking a breather.”
The Luckier I Get …
Gary Player, the famous South African golfer, once said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” It is a timeless commentary on the role diligence and discipline play turning the open doors in life into remarkable opportunities. For Monteith, this was not only evident in the career track he chose (missiles) but also in the individuals who served as role models and mentors.
The first was Col. Cary Aaron, who served as his ROTC instructor at UNM. It is worth noting that in Monteith’s graduating ROTC class and the one that followed with a total 15 graduates, four became general officers. In the previous 30 years of classes, only one rose to that level. This is practically a statistical impossibility; in the entire Air Force only .07 percent are generals. Yet Aaron, who ran the program like an operational squadron, gave the cadets the most real-world experience imaginable.
“He provided us the opportunity and autonomy to be leaders,” Monteith recalled.
There were many others. Capt. Bob Gibson was his first instructor in missile training and on his first day told the class, “You will be successful; you will work hard; I’m going to ensure that.” He set the tone for all of Monteith’s subsequent training and his approach to work performance.
“When you’re working with nukes, there’s absolutely no margin for error,” Monteith explained. One of his commanders even gave him his general’s star years before he would receive it, and that type of belief in you has an impact on your confidence and sense of purpose.
A program common in the military, which could and should also be used in the private sector, is grooming up and coming officers by having them serve as Aides-de-Camp. For Monteith, this came serving four-star Gen. Ed Eberhart, the Commander-in-Chief of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Though to some this seems like being a glorified butler, it provided entrée into the most exclusive halls of power in the world and the opportunity to observe and learn from the most celebrated leaders. As Monteith described it, “With him every day was a leadership laboratory,” especially being with him at the Cheyanne Mountain Complex on September 11, 2001.
Commanding on the Space Coast
From Eberhart, he learned the importance of thanking and interfacing with the people at not only the highest, but the lowest rungs of power. “He went out of his way to talk to sentries and the custodial staffs,” Monteith recalled. “He once told me, ‘If a general doesn’t show up for a month his responsibilities will be covered, but what happens if the janitor doesn’t show up? Then you have a crisis. So, who is more important?’”
It is a model of leadership Monteith brought to PAFB and practices daily. In fact, he takes time most weeks to work at different jobs on base to understand the needs and perspectives of the personnel he commands. One such experience was at the base K-9 training facility, which he described as an “underfunded disaster.” Monteith was able to find the allocations to turn it into an industry showcase and standard, which is now being shared with the base’s civilian law enforcement counterparts.
The convergence of timing, preparation and a lifetime of acquired skill brought Monteith to, what is for him, the ideal job in the ideal place in the world. Perhaps it was his experience with Gen. Eberhart or when he served as senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force that caused him to see PAFB not as an island in the middle of Brevard, but as a part of the larger community.
“The people I command live in the area, and I have to say, from the business leaders, to public and school officials, everyone goes out of their way to make sure our people feel welcomed and appreciated here. That means a lot to everyone who wears the uniform, and we want to reciprocate that sense of belonging to this community.”
It is a sentiment Monteith supports with actions and realizing PAFB has an annual economic impact of more than $1 billion in Brevard. “Patrick” is a neighbor we all want to keep. ◆
“To inspire your followers and partners, you have to be authentic and credible. To be credible, I don’t have to be an expert, but I must understand the systems we’re dealing with and continually develop as a leader. To be authentic, humility is an essential component. When you start to lose sight of why you serve and who you serve, sub-optimal performance is unavoidable. I call it, ‘The tyranny of the reserved parking spaces.’”
“Preparation is everything. If you aren’t prepared, then good luck turns into bad luck.”