Taking over Malmstrom is huge

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Dillon White
  • 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
One Dayton, Ohio, native and staunch Buckeyes football fan is unpacking his career memorabilia and settling in at the 341st Space Wing headquarters building, making Malmstrom his new Air Force home. 

Throughout his career, Col. Michael Fortney, 341st Space Wing commander, has had many experiences that have helped prepare him to lead the strategic deterrent mission here, including a life-changing phone conversation and challenging assignments along the way. 

Somewhere in the middle of it all, the events of 9/11 occurred. 

"Nowhere is safe," Colonel Fortney said. "There are bad people out there who want to do us harm. We have to be ready every day." 

That was the lesson learned from the experiences he took away when the events of 9/11 unfolded. He was stationed at USSTRATCOM at the time. 

While those events had a significant impact on the world and the way the colonel views things today, he knew very early in his Air Force career that he wanted to make an impact, too, -- on the Air Force. 

"While I loved being an NCO, I wanted to do big things quicker and didn't want to wait to become a senior NCO or a chief," Colonel Fortney said. "Prodded by my boss, I walked into the education office in 1983 and asked the counselor which university offered the fastest bachelor's degree program. She said it was Wayland Baptist University, so I told her 'I always wanted to go to old WBU!'" 

The then-senior airmen went to school at night four days a week, earned his bachelors degree in occupational education in about three years and received his commission at Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, following officer training school, in 1986. 

From there, he went on to hold numerous positions in the ICBM world at Minot AFB, N.D.; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.; and Vandenberg AFB, Calif., before attending Air Command and Staff College from 1997 to 1998 and the School of Advanced Airpower Studies from 1998 to 1999. 

As a major who would become a lieutenant colonel while at USSTRATCOM, he learned shortly after his promotion he would be getting his first squadron commander's position at the 576th Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg. He was told it would be filled with many challenges and he admits, it taught him lessons in leadership. 

"The unit had some problems and a bad reputation," Colonel Fortney said. "I learned a couple things during that experience. First, that units are never as bad as their bad reputations and almost never as good as their good reputations. I also learned a valuable lesson on changing challenged organizations. The secret is finding just a few great leaders and putting them in the right places. To change big organizations, you don't necessarily have to do a complete overhaul. Inserting four or five work horses with the right sight picture will get the job done." 

More military college, operations group and vice wing commander positions followed, which enhanced an already leadership-strong career that landed Colonel Fortney the top job here at Malmstrom. 

"Being a wing commander anywhere is an honor, but to be a wing commander at Malmstrom is huge," Colonel Fortney said. "This is a great privilege and it is humbling at the same time." 

He said the absolute importance and extreme nature of the mission here are the reasons he feels that way. 

"Our Airmen operate extreme weapons in an extreme environment here, and we have extreme standards to uphold," he said. "We have been doing this a long time at Malmstrom and no one does it better. We need everyone here to remind themselves of the importance and extreme nature of this mission daily. We have to be perfect every day." 

When Colonel Fortney isn't leading Airmen, he may be involved with his hobbies. He runs about five times a week and plays golf as often as he can. 

"I picked up golf at Minot when I was a missile combat crew member in the late 80s," he said. "And I haven't gotten a whole lot better in the last 20 years. It's a challenging and complicated sport." 

The commander plans to add another hobby to his list by learning how to fly fish during his time at Malmstrom. 

"I used to fish a lot as a kid with my dad back in Ohio, but I always used worms or lures. I want to give fly fishing a try while I'm here in Montana. I can't think of a better place to learn," he said. 

The colonel shares his off-duty time with his wife, Karen, whom he met by fate, he said.
Nearly three decades ago in the hallway of an Airman's dormitory at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., the community phone in the hallway rang as he happened to walk by. He answered it, only to find the two young women on the other end had dialed the wrong number. 

Then Senior Airman Fortney, North American Air Defense imagery analyst, later married one of the two girls who was on the phone, and has been married to her ever since.
"My wife loves that story," said Colonel Fortney. "I sat in the hallway and talked to them for about two or three hours. We arranged to meet, and the rest is marital history."