Jim Kohler, Lt. Cmdr. (Ret.)
Dir. of Operations, Headquarters 166th Airlift Wing,
Delaware Air National Guard
Chief Pilot – Dupont
I loved flying as a child and grew up wanting to fly high-performance aircraft. I’ve also always had a strong desire to serve my country,” Jim Kohler told AIN.
“The Guard is the best kept secret with regard to flying in the military. You can have careers both in the military and the civilian sector. It is like having two full-time jobs, however, and it takes a lot of time and effort. If you choose that path you have to understand that your family ends up being part of the Guard as well,” he said.
Kohler began his military career in the Marine Corps and then moved to the Air National Guard, where he served in numerous roles. “I’ve been the commander of the Delaware Air National Guard 142nd Airlift Squadron, the 476th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in Uzbekistan, and director of operations for Headquarters 166th Airlift Wing. I was also the assistant director for the Joint Operations Center, which is the military interface between the state of Delaware and the Army and Air National Guard in Delaware.”
Kohler said he deployed numerous times for the Guard throughout his career, beginning with Operation Iraqi Freedom where, for almost two years, he was the 142nd Airlift Squadron Commander and Expeditionary Commander in charge of 275 personnel and six aircraft. During that period he flew 124 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He returned to the theater for Operation Desert Storm.
A 1981 graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in business management, Kohler accepted a pilot position with Dupont Aviation Department in 1985.
He has worked there in various capacities that included flying as captain on five different aircraft. He assumed the chief pilot position in July 2006, captains the Gulfstream IV and the Hawker 800 domestically and internationally, and manages the aviation department.
“My job is to safely manage domestic and international flight operations,” he said. “Dupont supported me during my many deployments. I know that was difficult for my peers who were not in the military because they had to pick up the slack.” Kohler said the company would also hire some pilots to fill in for him during busy times.
“Certainly the company was understanding and supportive of my military career. At the same time, what I learned in the military helped me with my civilian position. It is wonderful to work for such a great company that supports the Guard.
I know it’s a significant commitment to cover for me when I’m gone,” he said.
During his career Kohler has been deployed to Bosnia, Panama, South America (fighting the war on drugs) and a host of smaller contingencies. “We were redeployed to Afghanistan for Enduring Freedom for another year,” he said.
Throughout his career with the Delaware Air National Guard Kohler was deployed for a total of more than three years.
“I was deployed as an aircraft commander for six months flying into Iraq every day. We flew hundreds of combat and combat-support missions during that war, and everyone who flies in a war zone has close calls. All of our aircraft have been shot at and some have been damaged. I’ve had my fair share,” he said.
“When you are deployed everything is tough. You’re sleeping, eating and operating out of tents. When on base, you are surrounded by barbed wire and security as if you’re in prison, and when you go to work sometimes you get shot at. You believe in what you’re doing, you’re committed to it, but you still miss your family and living a normal life.”
Kohler said it’s the family that makes the greatest sacrifices in the military lifestyle. “My family has been as much a part of the Air National Guard as I have. My wife, Karen, ran the military family support network since she was the commander’s wife, and my two sons, Michael and Chris, started a support group at their school for the children of deployed personnel. I am so lucky to have such a great family,” he said. “It was hard for them when I was away, and they each made great sacrifices to support me. My wife had to take a leave of absence from her job to manage everything. It all worked out in the end, but [having one member] deployed as a war fighter is challenging to any family.”
Last year Kohler was inducted into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame. After 28 years of service Lt. Cmdr. Kohler retired in January from the Air National Guard, leaving the position of director of operations, Headquarters 166th Airlift Wing.
Together with his wife, he continues his civilian aviation career and is actively involved in supporting aviation in Delaware and encouraging young people to consider careers in aviation.
If you know someone from the business aviation industry who is currently serving
in a war zone, please contact David A. Lombardo at firstname.lastname@example.org.