Leading 'Team 10': Col. Christopher Leonard reports on his first year as commander of the 10th Air Base Wing

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  • U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - An Air Force Academy grad and self-described “farm boy” from Wisconsin said life as commander of the 10th Air Base Wing during the last year has been an “unbelievable opportunity.”   

“Returning to the Academy has been a great experience,” said Col. Christopher Leonard, a 1997 Academy graduate. “My family has been happy and excited to be here and it’s surreal to be back.”

The 10th ABW is the Academy’s host unit, responsible for medical services provided to 65,000 beneficiaries; security for an 18,000-acre installation; personnel administration; infrastructure; and logistic services across the base and the school’s 4,000 cadets.

“The work of our Total Force Airmen, the services we provide cadets, service members, families and beneficiaries, cannot be overstated,” Leonard said. “The wing is fundamental to providing the broad support of the Academy’s mission of developing leaders of character.”

Now the wing’s top officer for a year, Leonard’s efforts are centered on developing plans and programs promoting the Academy’s mission and longevity.

“Step one, for me, has been establishing a mindset of teamwork where each person understands where their teammates are coming from and respects their expertise,” he said. “Serving at the 10th Air Base Wing is much more than just about what we do – it’s about what we should do, including being role models for cadets. Cadets need to see a professional role model when they interact with anyone from the wing, including myself. When cadets talk to anyone in the wing, I want them to see positive character they can aspire to.”

The colonel said the wing plays an important role in national defense by contributing to the success of the National Defense Strategy, which addresses long term strategic threats.

“Critical from my perspective is the acknowledgment of an increasingly complex security environment,” he said. “That complexity demands even better leaders in the future.”

Leonard said the Academy meets that challenge with a long list of “initiatives and improvements," the vast majority of which come with a mission or a medical support component.

“We meet that challenge by remaining adaptive and flexible to support across all mission elements,” he said.

A Mindset of Teamwork
The wing’s mission is to “forge generations of leaders through world class medical and mission support,” and its vision statement is to “maximize partnerships in service and support to the Air Force’s and Space Force’s premier leadership institution.”

Leonard said his priorities, designed to inspire his team to “stay the course” through any challenge, are teamwork, proactive planning and customer experience.

“These priorities are grounded in living honorably, preparing for future conflict, driving innovation and agile integrated operations, and establishing a mindset of teamwork where each Total Force Airmen understands that the wing is fundamental to the broader support of the Academy’s mission of developing leaders of character," he said.

Commanding the wing has been Leonard’s first assignment at the Academy after graduating from the school with bachelor’s in civil engineering. He’s earned a master’s in engineering and environmental management, graduated Air War College and Army Command and General Staff College, and was a National Defense Fellow at Harvard-Kennedy Law School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. His selection to lead the wing occurred when Pentagon leaders and elected officials were still coping with the uncertainties of the global coronavirus pandemic.  

“Safely and effectively dealing with the challenges of the pandemic led to improvements in the services we provide for cadets and beneficiaries, including installing “Telehealth” - internet-based medical services – he said. “The wing and installation, as a whole, has overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic and in many ways, improved our processes.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the last variant, but the wing is ready to adjust and do what it knows how to do keep the base population, and by extension our host community of Colorado Springs, safe,” Leonard said.

Leonard rates the partnership between Academy and Colorado Springs as “excellent,” high marks based on a collegiate and congenial relationship between local civic leaders and senior officials at the base. Leonard looks forward to fostering those relationships over the next year.

“One of our focuses is restoring face-to-face meetings with local civic leaders and organizations that were difficult to maintain during the pandemic,” he said. “I’d like to do that with our local military and civilian leaders and supporting agencies.” 

Leonard praised the Military Affairs Council, the Defense Mission Task Force and the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Council for their advocacy of the Academy.

“We’re very fortunate to have the support of our community and it’s not taken for granted,” he said. “I hope to build on that.” 

A ‘Spectacular’ Career
On duty, he might be “Colonel Leonard” but at home he’s “dad.”

My kids keep me grounded,” he said. “No one gives more honest feedback than a 9 or 12 year old,” he said with a laugh.

Leonard’s said his family: wife, Erin, and their daughter and son, represent the foundation of any success he’s experienced.

“They’re everything,” he said. “Erin is involved with our military community and my daughter follows in that.”

“Dad” enjoys outdoor activities with the family, playing cribbage with his daughter and bicycling with his son. He’s an avid runner who makes sure to put in the miles before work.

Leonard shrugs off the idea that much of the wing’s efforts go unnoticed by the general public.

“I like knowing that the 10th Air Base Wing is so good at what it does that it can be taken for granted,” he said.

“The Wing is reliable and we are relentless in our efforts to support the success of others. I know we are appreciated by our teammates across the mission elements”

Service of others is what attracted Leonard to the Academy and the Air Force. 

“It was a natural fit,” he said. “I always had the desire to serve and be a part of something larger than myself. The Academy continues to check that box in a rather spectacular fashion.”