Tom Bertels, managing partner at Sullivan Higdon & Sink (SHS), was inducted into 2012 class of the Honorary Commander Program with the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base (AFB), which houses the largest tanker fleet in the world.
The two-year program pairs local community leaders with military commanders in order to create an educational relationship with the public and promote the programs, traditions and the mission of the Air Force. Bertels was matched with Colonel Thomas J. Riney, commander of the 22nd Operations Group, McConnell AFB.
Individuals are selected to be honorary commanders because of their influence and leadership in the community and their willingness to build public awareness and support for the Air Force.
“As a pilot for nearly 40 years, I have deep admiration for our military,” said Bertels. “It is a privilege to be invited to such a prestigious assignment where I will get to experience and understand how the Air Force Base in Wichita contributes to the overall global mission.”
Bertels is an experienced pilot and has previously worked as an air traffic controller for the Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration. Currently, he stays immersed with the aviation industry by overseeing several aerospace and defense clients, such as Cessna Aircraft, Spirit AeroSystems, Pratt & Whitney, Lycoming, Rocketdyne, TECT and Sojourn at SHS offices in Wichita and D.C.
“To do our job right, it's vital for us to develop a deep understanding of how our clients' products and services are used. We call it ‘walking in our clients' customers' shoes.’ I can't think of a better example of walking in those shoes than accompanying a flight crew on a refueling mission,” Bertels said.
Wichita Eagle reporter, Molly McMillin, recently interviewed Bertels about his love for aviation and how it has positively affected his work and life. The story was published in the Eagle this past May.
During the honorary commander tour, Bertels will attend many official unit, wing and social military events, including educational tours and orientation flights.
At the end of the term, Bertels will graduate to an honorary commander alumni status along with his peers and will continue to be an influential Air Force member and attend base events.