VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Three weeks into his new job as commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, Col. Timothy Danielson said he's settling in, and looking forward to giving Vance airmen the tools they need to continue "producing the world's best pilots."

Danielson, a native of Manville, La., north of New Orleans, took over the reins of the 71st Flying Training Wing from Col. Corey Simmons, in a change of command ceremony on June 29.

Coming to Vance to command a training wing was not a career move Danielson thought was possible — the latest development in a 22-year career in which he first didn't think he'd even be able to fly.

Danielson followed his older brother to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa — a location "just far enough away from home to be on my own," he said.

Following in his father's footsteps, who served more than two decades in the Marine Corps, Danielson said he knew he wanted to sign up for ROTC. The allure of airplanes drew him to Air Force ROTC, but at the time, in the mid-90s, he didn't think he'd ever get to fly for the Air Force.

"When I was going through ROTC, there weren't any pilot slots going to ROTC graduates — all the pilot slots went to Air Force Academy graduates," Danielson said. "At the time they were closing a lot of bases and cutting military infrastructure as a whole."

In his four years of college at Alabama, only one ROTC graduate got a pilot assignment.

"The thought of flying airplanes didn't really cross my mind, because it wasn't really an option," Danielson said.

But, a change to Danielson's college plans made flying possible. He changed his major during his four-year term at Alabama, and wasn't able to finish the requirements for the new major by graduation time. He had to delay his graduation six months, to December 1997 — just long enough for the Air Force to begin ramping back up its pilot production.

"Just by chance and luck, I was able to get a pilot slot," Danielson said.

He went on to earn his wings at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., and has since accumulated more than 3,900 flying hours in the C- 21, C-130 and KC-135 aircraft.

His deployments include service in staff and flying positions in support of Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, he served as deputy director U.S. Africa Command Liaison Office at the Pentagon, and before coming to Vance was commander of the 43d Air Mobility Operations Group at Pope Army Airfield, N. C.

When it came time for orders after Pope, Danielson said he didn't think a training command was in the cards.

"I had grown up in operations, and had done Air Mobility Command my whole life," Danielson said. "I was always under the impression you had to have AETC (Air Education and Training Command) experience to go back there in command."

But, the Air Force called Danielson to see if he'd want to take command at Vance, and he jumped at the opportunity.

"I am more than ecstatic to give back to young airmen," Danielson said about coming to Vance. "We're developing the world's best pilots here, and when they mentioned this as a possibility to me, I was more than excited to come here."

On the home front, Danielson is flying solo during his term at Vance, which is slated for two years. His girlfriend, an Air Force KC-135 pilot, currently is a graduate student at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C.

In his first few weeks in Enid, Danielson said the community has more than lived up to its reputation in the Air Force for welcoming airmen.

"It was evident to me the second I showed up, the relationship between the community and the base is unlike anything else I've seen in my career," Danielson said. "You can just feel that energy when you come here."

Danielson said the energy of Team Vance comes, in part, from so many members of the community working on the base.

"All the people from town who work here on base are passionate about contributing to the mission of producing the best pilots in the Air Force," Danielson said, "and you can really feel that here."

As he begins his tour at Vance, Danielson said he's looking forward to empowering airmen to serve and lead.

"It's all about developing young airmen, developing new leaders and giving airmen the tools they need to be successful," Danielson said. "When you see them being successful, it's really gratifying."

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at
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