LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
There’s more to what many of Laughlin’s Airmen saw on June 1, 2018, when the vice wing commander took center stage for her retirement ceremony.
Col. Michelle Pryor, for the last time, walked into her office and said her goodbyes to her friends and Air Force family. She, for the last time, saw her reflection in canopy of a T-1 Jayhawk and completed her last sortie; and like all the friends and mentors she made along her journey in her Air Force career, she, for the last time, drove through the gates of one of the Air Force’s many bases like many Airmen have and will still do after her – while on active duty.
However, staying behind Laughlin’s gates as Pryor departs is the finale of a legacy that started and finished on Anderson Hall’s stage, where her ability to put service before self mentored her family, her Airmen, and further ensured the security of the people of the United States.
“A lot of people really love her and are going to miss her here at Laughlin,” said Staff Sgt. Sarah Hahn, 47th Flying Training Wing equal opportunity NCO in charge. “Colonel Pryor was awesome, and I’m going to miss her as well.”
It’s a career that’s been both noticed and recognized from top to bottom, from airman basic to general officers at the Pentagon, where one of her assignments took her previously before her time as vice commander of Laughlin.
“Colonel Pryor is straight up smart,” said Col. Charlie Velino, 47th Flying Training Wing commander. “She made the work look easy, and definitely had my back in ensuring nothing slipped through the cracks. It’s tough to see the Pryors go, but I know they’ll continue to be great friends with the Air Force in the years to come.”
Her career started in May of 1997, where a passion for aviation and engineering drew her into the military. After working as a training manager for the 14th Airlift Squadron at Charleston Air Force Base, SC, she entered the specialized undergraduate pilot training program right here at Laughlin as part of class 99-05.
“I wanted to be an astronaut, and the best way to do that was to learn how to fly,” she said. “I was pretty nervous my first time flying, and I always put pressure on myself to do the best. In the end though, it all worked out for the best.”
After graduating pilot training, she partook her first assignment as an instructor pilot at Randolph AFB, Texas, flying the T-37 Tweet. Through years ahead of assignments, promotions, deployments, and a growing family, Pryor described how important it is to stop and take notice of people and the events around her time and time again, and above all else, help those around her whether it be in training as a student, or as a commander herself.
“Taking care of people is part of what being in the Air Force is about,” she said. “Mission success depends on the team, and I myself get a lot of personal fulfillment in helping others succeed. It takes a team to make the Air Force happen, and by helping one you build the team.”
It’s a part of her that Maj. Daniel McLaughlin, 47th Flying Training Wing director of plans and programs, remembers her best by.
“She did her best to make everyone around her better through mentoring, one-on-one guidance, and suggestions that she’d provide during everyday interactions with the people around her,” he said. “She’s very proactive about giving feedback, and it never feels forced or generic. She takes the time to give personalized inputs and I’ve heard from multiple people who have either had her as a supervisor or a mentor that it was what they liked and respected the most about their interactions with her.”
Part of mentoring and taking care of Airmen, according to her, is often about turning off what she calls one’s “autopilot:” whatever minimal operation is required to get through the daily grind without thinking consciously of one’s surroundings and the people around them.
“A lot of times we get so busy that we don’t see what’s going on around us,” she said. “If you enjoy what you’re doing, it becomes less of a job and more of what you want to do.”
Pryor expanded further with her own experience by recollecting on her past assignments and what made them most memorable. At her retirement ceremony with her husband, Lt. Col. David Pryor, 96th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, she discussed how they both graduated together in pilot class 99-05, traveled the world with family and friends during the two’s overseas assignments, all coming to a close at the very same stage they met.
“Throughout our Air Force journey, we experienced opportunities and adventures that some people can only dream about,” she said. “As I look back now, we continue to realize it’s really the people who made each assignment more memorable.”
To Pryor, time really flies however when the months and years are filled with “great people and great adventures,” and having a long-term goal to work towards. She now looks forward to the many years of family fun and quality time that will follow.
“I definitely look forward to having more time with family,” she said. “I also look forward to traveling and relaxing a little bit where I can.”