Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The 58th Special Operations Wing – a sprawling Air Force training wing that stretches across the country, from Alaska to North Carolina, and is based in Albuquerque – has a new commander.
Col. Jonathan Graham, a helicopter and drone pilot who was so “stoked” when he learned of his promotion that he bought himself a brand-new Corvette, assumed command of the 58th SOW on June 30.
For two years, Graham will guide the base that trains thousands of airmen each year on special operations, combat search and rescue and nuclear site security.
“Many different things are going on, which is one of the things that makes this a unique wing,” Graham said in an interview. “This wing, there’s not another one like it.”
The base trains pilots and crews on the HC-130J Combat King II and the MC-130J Commando II, which are fixed-wing aircraft; the CV-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotar aircraft; and the UH-1N Huey and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.
Trainings can range from flights out of Kirtland Air Force Base to hot, dusty landscapes in New Mexico. There’s also Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, training in the northern reaches of Alaska to simulate arctic survival conditions. And they train pilots on what to do if their helicopter crashes in the water.
“It’s difficult, and it’s intense, but I think it provides everybody a good baseline and something to sort of reach back and remember on that worst day ever,” Graham said.
The training stays current depending on some of the threats around the world. For years, the training was aligned with providing pilots with experience flying in the conditions they would face in the War on Terror, fought primarily in Middle East and South Asian countries.
Now, the military is shifting focus slightly after Russia invaded Ukraine, marking the first time a European country has been invaded by another country since World War II.
Graham said instructors and those who develop curriculum are in regular communication with Air Force squadrons across the world.
“That (War on Terror-specific training) is starting to sort of ramp down and then OK, we’re looking back at the theaters in the European and Pacific,” Graham said. “Those are different problems and different challenges and different adversaries. So being able to get that feedback from the field is really the most important part.”
Graham, who grew up on different Air Force bases across the country, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1999 and was assigned to Kirtland for the first time in 2002 to learn how to fly the MH 53 helicopter, which the Air Force no longer uses. He returned to the base about four years later to be an instructor on the CV-22 Osprey.
He’s also served stints at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, where he flew the Q1 and Q9, better known as the Predator and Reaper drones.
Prior to his latest post, Graham was the vice commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon AFB. Before that he served two consecutive two-year assignments at the Pentagon.
He grew up in an Air Force family, moving regularly between cities every two years.
When he returned from his first deployment in Iraq in the early 2000s, he was turned on to his one and only hobby – cars.
“Fast and furious awesome,” he said.
Graham bought a Mazda RX-8 after returning home and started making improvements to the vehicle.
“I immediately started replacing every part on that car with something else, huge stereo, turbocharger whatever,” he said. “That was the first one and that’s just been something that I’ve done since then.”
Graham said in the years since he’s purchased and worked on restoring about eight vehicles. He had a 1967 Camaro. But he upgraded to the Corvette C8 after he was promoted to his latest assignment.
“Frankly, I was stoked,” he said about his promotion.
For the last month or so there’s been a silver Corvette noticeably parked in the commander’s parking space outside of the wing’s headquarters at KAFB.
“I don’t have any other hobbies that I spend money on,” he said. “I can’t go super long without buying one.”
Graham isn’t the only new executive who recently started a two-year stint at Kirtland.
Col. Chris Welch is the vice commander and Chief Master Sgt. Colin Fleck is the command chief.
“I’m here to support the boss, in translating his intent and guidance and direction, to the force,” Fleck said. “On the flip side of that, I’m here to provide a perspective to the commander, as well as advocate for the enlisted force.”
He said one of his goals is to work to improve the environment at the training wing. All members of the military eventually make a decision to keep serving or separate and start a new path.
“I would like that decision to at least be informed by having had enjoyed their time in the Air Force and not leaving because they hated every minute of it, or they didn’t feel like they had the support they needed,” he said. “And so my goal for the time that we have here is to find those places where we have some ability to make up that difference between what we’re asking them to do, and what we’re providing them to be able to do it at the level we really need them to do it at.”