From Air Force Navigator to Air Guard Wing Commander: Colonel Robert S. Noren, Georgia Air National Guard.

Born in 1970, in Spangler, Pennsylvania, a small coal mining town, located between State College and Pittsburgh.  He grew up in nearby Westover, PA, where he would then graduate from the second smallest public school in the state! So small, in fact, that it did not have a football team, a problem causing sports and physical fitness-minded Bob Noren (first love: football!) to have to find a work-around.  He chose basketball, really liked it, and continually used it to keep physically fit through college and well beyond.

For his college experience, he chose Penn State University in State College, PA.  It’s one thing to choose a college.  Another thing to afford it. Noren had worked two summers prior to Penn State enrollment, enough to pay for one semester.  So, as he remembered, “I had to quickly figure out the whole cost issue.”  Early in his freshman year, the unsolicited solution arrived in his dorm mailbox.  It was a form letter suggesting that he consider applying for an ROTC scholarship!  And that he did. Totally out of the blue had come his college cost solution and, with it, his first exposure to the United States military. He spoke with the contact person on campus, signed up for ROTC, competed for a scholarship, and thankfully, he received one!  “So, I was able to stay in college. And from the very start, I owe where I am today to the financially-sustaining start I received from the military’s ROTC program.”

While it would end up taking him an additional half-year beyond the normal four to graduate, due to those required additional ROTC classes.  Noren majored in engineering and ended up graduating (December 1992) in the Top 25% of his class. He was commissioned directly into the Air Force. “The funny thing about the whole commissioning thing, he remembered, was, when I began my freshman year (1988), there were 164 fellow ROTC cadets.  Four and a half years later, due to the national military drawdown (late ‘80’s to early ‘90’s), I graduated with only 33! I was so very thankful that I was one of those chosen to stay.”

Once on active duty with the Air Force, Noren wanted to become a pilot, but his eyesight was not up to pilot training standards. He was told that, instead, he could become a navigator.  At that time, he was at Davis Monthan Air Force Base working as an engineer for awhile before moving on to navigator school.  That call came and, with it, time to take another physical. But his eyes were still an issue.  Referred to a Colonel, who was also an eye doctor, this ranking officer, sympathetic to Noren’s navigator desires, determined that with glasses, his vision was correctable to fit within Air Force standards.  Thanks to an understanding, eye doctor Colonel, who just happened to be there on temporary duty, Noren was able to begin his long-awaited navigator training and his actual Air Force career. As Noren learned and vividly remembered: “Sometimes we have to look at the bigger picture. Do we have to follow the letter of the law, or do we have to do the right thing. Sometimes it’s the little things, and I try to pass that lesson on.”

Next stop: Air Force navigator school at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  His desired career path finally and fully underway, Noren finished first in his class!  “Frankly, said he, “I never thought I could do that. But I was so afraid of failing that I worked my tail off!”  Other than quiet bragging rights and feeling really good about his class achievement, ‘order of merit’ for graduates then applied to the choice of stationing assignment. Noren’s first-place class achievement enabled him to be the first to select his first post-school aircraft and stationing assignment, from among those listed. As he remembers, “In 1995, I got my dream job!  As a lieutenant, you’re not even supposed to ever get this one:  Air Force Special Operations at Hurlburt Field, Florida!”  And there he was starting his military career for real, but as a lieutenant surrounded by captains.  “A lot of what happens in the military is luck and timing.”  And that certainly proved to be true with this highly-sought-after very first assignment in Special Ops.

Noren would be flying and navigating in the MC-130 aircraft. The “M,” said Noren, stands for multi-mission with virtually all of the mission assignments in this very special American Air Force combat-transport aircraft, which typically and understandably, flies at night, often traveling behind enemy lines, and most often on single-ship missions. “We did clandestine flights, dropping off our most elite soldiers to go do the work they were assigned to do, all the while the enemy (hopefully!) doesn’t even know we’re there.”

With that reality in mind, early on, Noren discovered the level of secrecy that would be required by his upcoming missions. “I signed into my unit’s Director of Operations who was a junior lieutenant colonel.  He offered his congratulations for being at Randolph.  Then, happy talk over, he surprised me when he said: ‘Watch CNN today to learn where you’ll be tomorrow.’ “What a great line,” thought Noren, “I’ve got to remember that one!  But when the colonel said it, in Noren’s brand new position, it always proved to be true. It took me a few weeks to fully understand that prophecy.  You watch the news daily to see what’s going on in the world, and then to see (and know) where you’re going to be sent the next day!  It was all very exciting, since as a young guy, here I would be going to some of the same places that people couldn’t even point to on a map, because there was some uprising, or Americans were being held hostage, something like that.  We had to plan a mission to ensure that, with our Special Operators being flown in, that the enemy would for sure be taken out!”

Noren remembered flying with several different Special Operations units, and what a privilege it always was for him. “I got to work with some of the best of the best, and it humbled me every time I saw, up close on our flights, who they were and all that they were so skillfully able to do.  All of them, very, very special people.”

Now an experienced navigator, Noren remained at Hurlburt Field, FL from 1995 to 1998, during which time he was promoted to captain and was deployed to Kuwait for two-to-three months, still flying with, and guiding, the MC-130.  Right before deploying, getting all his stuff together for the overseas trip, a long-time unit secretary, “an older civilian lady, who was like a Mom to all of us,” came to Noren in the midst of packing, holding an application in her hand, that had come down from the Wing, with the competitive opportunity for younger Captains to be assigned to the Pentagon, and while working a couple of jobs there, he was told the officer selected would also be able to earn a Master’s Degree at George Washington University.”  This wonderful, seasoned civilian employee told Noren that she thought “he’d be great” for the assignment and handed him the one application she’d been given.  Busy getting ready to deploy, Noren recalled only spending about two hours on the application, due to his need to get back to packing, figuring what’s the use, as he was just about to head into a heavy combat zone with that chance, ever the chance, and ever on your mind, that this could possibly be his last flight.

Then one mid-afternoon, somewhat later, while preparing for his next night mission flight, his Squadron Commander “suddenly came walking into our tent, and announced to me that, when we do rotate out of here (Kuwait), you’re on the first plane to leave. I asked why is that, sir?  So, it seems, he said, that you have a job lined up back home, Captain.  Well, that news was like, holy crap, you never really know what all is going on.”  Turns out it was that Pentagon assignment application that he had so hastily filled out, and, unknown to him, that dear civilian secretary back at Hurlburt Field had pulled information and put all of the necessary packet submission paperwork together for him. “She was a real sweetheart,” recalled Noren. And on top of that news, he soon learned that his wife back in the states was pregnant!  When he returned from Kuwait, after a short leave to check on his dear wife, he first had to attend a seven-week squadron officer’s school, as the initial part of his Pentagon tour selection. Then, at some point amidst it all, he and his wife packed up and made the move to the D.C. area for the next two very busy years, for both of them!

Captain Noren worked at the Pentagon days, and then went to the university at night.  He was in D.C. from 1998 until the spring of 2000.  He recalls his time at the Pentagon was both interesting and valuable. “It was such a great experience, because there were so few Captains working there.  And because of the program we were in (with other selected Captains from around the nation), we were allowed to go anywhere and sit in on almost any meeting. It became such a broadening experience. Being able to better understand how the smartest men and women in the DoD think was just incredible for me. It was an unbelievably hectic time, with day and night work/study expectations.  “But at the end of it all,” recalled Noren, “I came out of it a lot more well-rounded. And along with that benefit, the military had paid for my Master’s degree!!”

It was now time to return to the operational side.  At that time, the upgraded version of the MC-130’s (‘Talon Two’) were located in the United Kingdom, Japan, and at Hurlburt Field. Since he was told that the manning levels for this newer version were then low overseas, so he ought to plan on assignment to either England or Japan. That likelihood in mind, Noren sold his still-owned home near Hurlburt in Florida.  Then, about three-months prior to completing his D.C. staff position, he was told: “Congratulations, you’ve got a ‘Talon Two’ assignment back to Hurlburt Field!”

Initially, Noren privately indicated his disappointment, but he would soon come to realize that it was actually a blessing.  “Once I got back there,” he remembered, “I realized that since I hadn’t flown in two years, I was behind my peers. So, I volunteered for every available flight, every exercise, every time the airplanes were going off station to practice with the Army “customers.” I wanted to be a part of it again, because I had a lot of ground to make up, and quickly.”  In his particular squadron, there was a mission calling for the Rangers on board to assault and seize an airfield. This flight included between three and seven aircraft. In such a formation, there was an assigned Lead Crew, which dictated everything about the flight and everyone else then simply follows. “That crew was chosen for a reason. And that reason, perhaps obvious, was because they were really good,” said Noren.

Then in mid-summer of 2001, with the group just returning from a major exercise out in Nevada, one of the Lead pilots and the Lead navigator decided to leave the Air Force for civilian life. Then, on top of their departures, and totally out of the blue, 9/11 happened!  At that particular time, Noren was actually out in Albuquerque, New Mexico attending an instructor school for aircrews (typically eight members per aircraft), designed to help experienced crew members more effectively teach others coming into the unit.  With the shock of 9/11 sinking in, Noren was ordered to take his required instructor check ride and fly immediately back to Hurlburt. Once checked in, he looked at the list of crew names and assignments for the eight or ten aircraft currently there at Hurlburt. “So, I looked up to where my name was on the charts and saw that I had been put on Crew One. The Lead Crew.  Lead Crew navigator!!”

Noren was quick to admit that he’d never led a formation or a field seizure before. He was told: “After following for two years, this is going to be your first one to lead.  You already know what right looks like!  So, this is yours to plan and yours to lead.  And now we’re going to go punch the Taliban and al Qaeda in the mouth.” On October 6, 2001, remembered Noren, “we flew over to a location outside Afghanistan. There we met up with the elite Army “users,” and spent several days planning a mission. And again, my first!  It would be a double seizure.  Using a fixed-wing side and a rotary-wing side. We assaulted a remote desert airstrip and seized it, which allowed our follow-on forces to come in. And, even today, it still amazes me.  That was the actual event.  Not a practice run.  That was the real thing! I had gone straight into “hit” night.  I’ll never forget it.  It was October 19th at 1935 Zulu. That was the time we dropped the first American paratroopers into Afghanistan, and the very first troopers to go in came out of my airplane!”  Along with Noren’s lead aircraft dropping in our elite troops, along with the other MC-130’s, ten minutes prior to that collective drop, a fixed-wing AC-130 gunship flew in with them to ‘soften up’ the enemy numbers on the ground, and doubtless their resolve, as well! (the other rotary wing aircraft were simultaneously seizing another objective 70 miles away from ours)

Taking off. Captain Bob Noren, U.S. Air Force.

But just prior to his description of the planned drop from his aircraft, Noren was asked if he thought that the gunships had done a comprehensive enough job prior, so as to avoid any concern about the vulnerability of his own aircraft going in for the troop drop?  With this inquiry at a key point in his narrative, it was obvious that the mental recollection of that very critical moment in time, a live or die moment, had triggered a definite, observable, twinge of emotion in Noren.  Said he: “I remember sitting in the navigator position, when the Air Mission Commander (in charge of all of the assaulting aircraft), who was then in continuing radio contact with the accompanying  AC-130 gunships flying high above, received a radio alert that, regardless of the softening efforts prior, there now appeared to be active enemy fighters down below, and they seemed to be right under our intended flight path, information we received within just one-minute of our jumpers coming out! I looked at our flight path coordinates and reinforced the mission commander’s concern.  Our current intended approach path would in fact, have put us directly overhead of still-active enemy fighters, with the distinct possibility of taking fire, possibly fatal to our aircraft, to our elite ‘passengers,’ and those that followed our lead.”

At that point, as Noren remembered, those higher-altitude AC-130’s let loose on the apparent still active enemy forces, with their impressive fire.  Needing some extra time to accomplish that, no doubt, life-saving action, in order to protect his own troop-carrying formation, Noren “had to drag his group of MC-130’s around and away from the active enemy danger, and lose five-minutes from the intended drop time, but far better, because we all said to ourselves that we’re not going to do anything to knowingly jeopardize the mission of these guys in that back of our airplanes.  But when we finally did bring the formation in, down below there was a smoking hole that hadn’t been there before, courtesy of the AC-130 gunships. Those terrific gunships would rotate back and forth to a circling tanker in the distance, so that there was always at least one active, fueled, AC-130 aircraft on-station, circling and providing constant protective coverage from above. Noren’s team was then more safely able to head in at the correct altitude to complete the planned drop of our elite American forces, the first of the Afghan conflict. “That was the most memorable mission from my time in Afghanistan.  We remained there for about 90-days, then returned home to Hurlburt.  A few months later, I flew over again, for a total of about three, 60-to-90 days each in Afghanistan.  Then we started preparing for the invasion of Iraq in December of 2002.”

Captain Noren’s crew.

“If you remember the First Gulf War,” recalled Noren, “there was a very, very long air campaign for over 100 days, before they allowed the ground forces to move in.  This mission was going to be different.  A very short air campaign, and then the Army and Marines would go from Kuwait to Bosnia and on into Baghdad.  Before Noren’s team could go in, President Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48-hours to leave the country.  While his departure clock was running, Noren’s team received approval for a secretive very low-level flight into Iraq, heading toward the northwest side of Baghdad, then landing on, and seizing, a desert strip of land there, while dropping off our “Army customers.”  Flying out, Noren’s team then returned to base, loaded several vehicles onboard, and then returned to that same spot near Baghdad.  Off-loading equipment and troops, “we then wanted to take off and get back out, but we were stopped from doing so.”

Turned out the reason was the presence of U.S. Navy Aegis Cruisers, out in the Red Sea, launching Tomahawk missiles that were flying right over Noren’s location. Needless to say, not a good time for them to take off!  “We could see those missiles,” he remembered, “flying over us at about a thousand feet, and looking very much like telephone poles crossing in the sky!”  Although he was running low on gas, the air controllers, understandably, wouldn’t let him take off.  “We were burning gas, starting to run low, sitting on the ground in Afghanistan, while those things were flying overhead.  It was surreal. Since there was nothing we could do, we might as well just enjoy the show!”

Noren was over there in the fight for three or four months.  He flew back to home base at Hurlburt Field in May 2003.  “At that point, I was actually thinking about getting out of the Air Force.”  Obviously, a big decision. But at that point, he wasn’t sure. So, he took on one more assignment at Hurlburt. And he also deployed one more time to be the air liaison officer for one of the Special Forces groups in Afghanistan. While Noren considered that job to have been terrific experience, once he returned to Hurlburt, he realized just how mentally and physically tired he had become with the seemingly non-stop demands and deployments.  As he remembered: “When we weren’t deploying, we were flying hard practicing. It’s kind of a young person’s game.” He had been promoted to Major in 2003, and even though his career was going really well, he couldn’t get past the reality that he was just plain tired!

So, in the Fall of 2004, with two small children, and wife Bobbi’s full support, “we left the Air Force and moved back to Pennsylvania.  I took some time off. Including working some in my dad’s construction company building houses. I just tried doing things that were totally different for a change.”  As it happened, his desire for something completely different lasted for about a year!

One day, Bob Noren just happened to remember a conversation he’d had, while he was still on active duty, with a retired two-star general who was then working as an advisor/consultant for a company, as retired military officers often did. The general gave him his business card, offering to help him find employment, if he ever could use his assistance. Noren kept that particular card. Smart thing that he did.  After that year of construction work in Pennsylvania, that gnawing feeling of wanting to do something different came roaring back.

Somewhere toward the end of 2005 or the start of 2006, retrieving the general’s card that he’d somehow managed to save, Bob Noren gave that retired two-star a call. Happily, the general remembered him. He was by then working with a defense contractor at MacDill Air Force Base (Tampa, Florida), Special Operations Command. The general told Noren to give him time to make a few phone calls.  Sometimes in life, magic happens. This was one of those times.  “Within a week or two at most, I got a call from somebody asking me to come down to Tampa. They had a job to offer me, which would be working in the Special Operations Headquarters as a civilian contractor!” Noren accepted that offer and before long, along with his family, he moved to the Tampa area.  Turns out “it was one of the best jobs I’d had outside of the military. I really, really enjoyed it.”  And that’s primarily because he was then working with some of the same military veterans he had deployed with three or four years earlier!  But because of that continuing work proximity, before long, he realized that he was beginning to miss the military itself. “I began to miss wearing the uniform. So, I talked with a couple of buddies, and with my wife, and one discussion led to another. Then one day out of the blue, he got a call from someone with a Georgia National Guard squadron located in Brunswick, Georgia.

The caller indicated that he’d heard that Noren might be interested in re-joining. He was invited to come up and visit with them about the possibility.  Best yet, he could even give the Brunswick Guard a try on a part-time basis, so that he could maintain his full-time job with Special Operations at MacDill. This was in the 2007-2008 time frame.  Noren drove up to Brunswick, interviewed, and not surprisingly, given his prior service qualifications and experience, the Brunswick Guard officials liked what they saw, and he was invited to join the Georgia Guard unit there.  With his own desires for a return to service, and with the all important encouragement from his wife, Bobbi, to go back into the military, after about a four-year break from service, Bob Noren signed on with the Guard as a part-timer (165th ASOS), while maintaining his full-time position at MacDill AFB.  The change in his mental state, with this decision to re-enter service, was probably summed up best by his wife who observed that he had now gotten his “mojo” back!

Remembered Noren: “I enjoyed it.  I love it.  It was a great change of pace. And within three-years of being with the Brunswick unit, still part-time, the command asked me to go full-time with the Guard, taking on the Brunswick Director of Operations position (2011).  The first time they asked, I said no, because I really liked my part-time set-up.  Then about a year later, they asked me again.  Fearing they might not ask me a third time, I finally accepted.  I left my job at MacDill and moved up to Brunswick, ‘geo-batching’ for about a year, with my family still down in Tampa.”  Then, when the Brunswick 165th Air Support Operations Squadron was moved up to Savannah, Noren and his family moved to Savannah (2012-1213).

“I was very fortunate.  I served for about four years as ASOS Director of Operations (first at Brunswick, then Savannah), when they asked me to become the squadron’s commander. I was the commander for about three years, and I was getting ready to retire (2019). Then they asked me if I would come over to the Wing headquarters (Savannah). Still ready to retire, I said okay, I’ll serve in whatever capacity you want me to,” recalled Noren.

So, from 2019-2020, he served as the 165th Wing Chief of Staff.  At that time, serving in full-time command on an every-other-year basis, the Wing Commander was, that particular rotational year, a part-timer (flying full-time with an airline).  Noren’s primary responsibility, then, was to be sure the commander had all the information from the unit so that he could make the right operations and policy decisions. Then, “since they were short of 165th navigators, they asked me to come fly. I agreed and went back to flying after a 15-year break!  I thought I’d do that for a little bit longer.  Little did I know that, about a year after that, they promoted me to Colonel (LTC in 2012 / COL 2020).”

Major Bob Noren calling in an Air Strike.

Noren then volunteered for a duty assignment overseas (2021). It was about a five-month tour to be the commander of the 385th Air Expeditionary Group, a C-17 unit in Qatar, the lone Guard person, with active-duty personnel working for him.  For the first couple of months, as Noren remembered, it was “kind of a vanilla mission” (flying airlift throughout the 19 countries within Central Command). Then, without warning, it suddenly turned into something incredibly serious.  And that was when President Biden announced (April 18th) that the U.S. “would be going to zero in Afghanistan”!

So, recalled Noren, “we went from seven C-17’s and I think maybe eleven aircrews to the point where, within two-weeks, we suddenly had roughly twenty C-17’s and about thirty-four air crews!  And our main job was to just keep shuttling stuff out of Afghanistan, as quickly as possible, and bring it back to Qatar, Kuwait, or any other place. We went from kind of a sideshow business to the main effort in about a week!”  It was his unit, then, that was in the thick of the on-going evacuation of materials and service members, to include the eventual concluding, punishing, and painful (the deaths of U.S. service members) chaos that Americans got to witness here at home via the on-going network news coverage at the Kabel airport.

Accepting Georgia 165th Air National Guard Wing Command.

Prior to that chaotic conclusion, in June 2021, his promised five-month overseas assignment now up, he left Qatar for home, while things were still incredibly busy there. Two months later, back home with the 165th, he was asked to become Wing Commander! “Once again,” said Noren, “that kind of surprised me, but I humbly accepted” the opportunity for overall unit command responsibility.  He would go on to serve in that capacity for a total of twenty months.

The women who support Colonel Noren: Mom, wife Bobbie, and daughter Katie.

Then, while preparing for a normal 165th Wing drill weekend in early February of 2022, Bob Noren got an unexpected phone call from the National Guard Bureau. They asked him “if he’d be interested in leading the C-130 tactical airlift effort to support the European deterrence initiative.” In other words, using the 165th C-130’s to assist with flying in supplies to help the Ukrainians, with the Russian invasion then underway.  “And my answer wasn’t just yeah, it was an enthusiastic heck yeah!” recalled Noren.

Plans for a regular drill weekend were quickly put aside.  Guard airmen had no idea what was underway until they arrived, as usual, on Friday evening. “We just turned the schedule upside down,” recalled Noren, “to go from a training mindset, to one of being prepared to get out the door. By Saturday, we already had over 100 names of unit volunteers who had talked with their civilian employers, spouses, and families, and were ready to leave early Monday to fly over to Europe!  It was amazing to watch the Wing transform from a steady-state training base during a regularly scheduled weekend, to the hectic frenzy of rapid preparation to go and do what we had all signed up to do!”

“And all I did at that point was just be their coach.  I just watched everybody and provided a little bit of feedback here and there. But it was really the men and women of the Wing that got everybody ready, and it was phenomenal to see.  It was the highlight, because when they got over there, they were conducting some of the most important airlift missions to the Ukrainian forces, which were directly impacting the state of combat operations over there.”

Those 165th Guardsmen were flying rockets, javelin missiles, and whatever else the Ukraine soldiers needed to defend themselves.  Flying from large airfields in Europe on into some small Air Force airfields just outside of Ukrainian territory, to avoid upsetting, or over-stepping American diplomatic relations and requirements. Concluded Commander Noren: “They were flying in armaments as opposed to eggs and bacon!  And the real highlight for me was to see this Wing transform itself into something that I knew it could be.”

The time frame, again, was early February 2022.  Those Ukraine-assist 165th volunteers returned in May.  The well-earned and deserved welcome home gatherings for families and Guard colleagues wouldn’t be able to last very long, because just two days after their return, the Wing would undergo a higher headquarters inspection! Said Noren: “We had to pivot quickly to an inspection, which lasted about seven days.  And we ended up doing the best this Wing has ever done on a major command level inspection.  When you hit back-to-back home runs (arms delivery to Ukraine + great high-level inspection), that’s something to be mighty proud of. No question, those were two of the big highlights during my time in Wing Command. And best yet, they weren’t something I did. They were something I witnessed.”  But clearly it was Bob Noren’s clear direction and command leadership that enabled the Wing’s Guardsmen to perform so well.

In his remaining days as Commander, Colonel Noren was asked about his thoughts on leadership.  What in his view are the key attributes or qualities that define leadership effectiveness. “I would say this, and it may sound very basic, but before you do anything (as a command leader), you need to understand why you took the job.  If you took the job because it’s a promotion, or because it’s a status symbol, that will in large part guide you in the decisions you make. But if you took the job to make the people around you better, who will in turn make the organization better, that in my view is the key to leadership effectiveness.”

“So, every decision has to be grounded in, and guided by, making your people, and by extension, the organization better, because ultimately that’s why we lead. You have to have that constant dialogue with yourself: if it’s not right, don’t do it!  And one of the keys for me is that I don’t ask my airmen to do anything that I haven’t done or won’t do myself. Since BG Steve Westgate served in command, I think I’m the only commander who stayed fully tactically qualified in our aircraft. To me, it was important to keep up with all of the requirements those flying have. That way, I know the degree of difficulty myself that, in turn, will be required of others. All the while continuing to serve the unit as a professional officer.”

The conversation with Colonel Noren then moved from leadership to another very important command quality: character. He responded: “You’ve got to be true to what’s right or the whole thing, your command and respect, will unravel in front of you. I remember something one of my past bosses told me.  When you get into a position of leadership, there will be some who don’t want you to have that job. Maybe it’s only a few, but they will find every reason to try to make you stumble.  So, you have to go the extra mile to do everything right.  For instance, anytime there’s money or influence involved in anything we do, you have to make certain that, as the leader, you don’t ever take advantage of your position. Here’s an example: When we travel, we get a per diem for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  So, you get to the conference and lunch is provided. When you get back to base, on your travel voucher, you need to ‘unselect’ the lunch money.  Even though it may only be 12 bucks!  You have to make sure that in every little thing you do, you are above board, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because if you don’t, inevitably, someone will notice.  Another example would be the staff car provided for the commander’s use.  I don’t drive it off base unless I’m headed to a sister base for a meeting, or some other official purpose, and there are usually a couple of Guard people riding along with me. I’d never use it to run personal errands!  I simply don’t ever want to give the impression that I’m using a government resource for my own purposes.  Examples of perhaps little things, but they must always add up to doing the right thing overall.”

With leadership and character in mind, we then moved to the question of whether Colonel Noren could recall an officer he’d served with who might best exemplify the key leadership and character traits discussed above.  He responded: “I served under a lot of really good officers in the Special Operations world, all of whom were impactful. But the one who really stands out is Lieutenant Colonel Paul Havel, one of my commanders early on.  He had a lot of what we would all call ‘Havel-isms.’ He had an endless number of great lines that would stick with you and really make you think. One that really stuck with me was: ‘You never want to do anything to hurt the baby.’ So, I’m thinking, what in the world does that mean?  Well, he’d go on to explain. Said the LTC: This squadron you have is like a baby. Everybody wants to be around the baby. Everybody is a part of the baby. But the baby will spit up. It stays awake all night. It’s cranky. It interrupts your schedule. It gets sick a lot. It’s needy. But the baby is also something very special, so you’ve got to care for it. You’ve got to feed it. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to comfort it. And you’ve always got to be there for it. Because the baby’s gonna grow up and make you proud. So, whatever you do, he said, if you’re a leader in the squadron, ‘don’t hurt the baby’!  And the more LTC Havel kept talking about this ‘baby’ concept, the more sense it made. There will always be those in the organization needing more attention; those who will screw up assignments, etc.  But then at the very next turn, they come around, and it’ll make you incredibly proud of what they’ve done.  The lesson being: by your actions as the leader, don’t ever do anything to hurt the unit. Don’t do anything to ‘hurt the baby.’  I just thought that was a very good way to look at the ultimate value of one’s organization, and in this case, the 165th Airlift Wing!”  Bob Noren served with LTC Havel when the latter was the commander of the 165th Air Support Operations Squadron in Brunswick (GA).

Colonel Robert S. Noren

And finally, he was asked about what made him the proudest during his time in command.  Said Noren: “It’s those moments when the airmen finally embody the commander’s intent, then they move out confidently and start executing the mission so effectively, that they almost leave you in the dust!”

And how about the support level for our military here shown by the Savannah community?  His response: “This is a very special place.  You can’t go to the grocery store, or pump gas, or like I did today, stop for some lunch, without somebody taking the time to thank us for our service, to the point here I almost feel guilty because I feel like I didn’t do enough to warrant it. You go to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah, or go to some other major community function, and the pride shown by area citizens for those now serving is sincere and truly appreciated by those of us in uniform. In a word, Savannah’s support for our military members is phenomenal.”

Colonel Robert S. Noren relinquished command of the 165th Airlift Wing, Georgia Air National Guard, in June 2023.  He currently serves as the Deputy Director for Resources & Requirements (A 5/8) at the National Guard Readiness Center at Andrews Airforce Base, near Washington, D.C.