910th commander flies into retirement after 38-year career Published June 13, 2023 By Tech. Sgt. Juliet Louden 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio -- As a Ford Tri-Motor aircraft takes off, a young Boy Scout looks through the window, intensely watching the wheels spin faster and faster. He glances down to see the houses below getting smaller and smaller. In that moment, at the tender age of 12, he knew that he wanted to fly for the rest of his life, and the rest is history. Almost five decades later, that Boy Scout is flying off into retirement, wrapping up a 38-year Air Force career. As a C-130 navigator, he spent more than half of his career at the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, the place he calls home. “I love everything about the 910th,” said Col. Jeff Van Dootingh, 910th Airlift Wing commander. “It all comes down to the people. This is my Air Force home.” Van Dootingh displayed a true commitment to the military early in his life by joining the Civil Air Patrol during his freshman year of high school. He then graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and continued to navigator training school as a distinguished graduate. From there, he became an instructor navigator and flight safety officer. During his six years on active duty as an instructor navigator he enjoyed watching his students grow into their own as navigators. “The role of a trainer is very fulfilling,” said Van Dootingh. “When students start, they are visibly struggling and to get to see them develop and mature is pretty amazing. When you realize that they don’t need you anymore, you have done your job.” After his instructor navigator days came to end in 1991, Van Dootingh started working at the place he would grow to call his true home…YARS. He not only found his home, but he also found the love of his life. His wife, Diana Van Dootingh, fondly recalled her first encounter with Jeff Van Dootingh. “I was working as a bartender at the (YARS) club, and he walked in to watch a Sunday night football game,” said Mrs. Van Dootingh, smiling. “We went on one date and within six months we were married. This past May was our 31st wedding anniversary.” Mrs. Van Dootingh was no stranger to the military; her father was a Vietnam veteran and she even lived in YARS base housing as a child. Much like her husband, her role as senior Key Spouse was influenced by listening, supporting and understanding Airmen. “I tell Jeff, ‘listen to your Airmen,’ and he does,” said Mrs. Van Dootingh. “It is important to understand Airmen and what they need. That is why we made such a good team. I supported him by supporting his Airmen.” Around YARS, Van Dootingh is known for his big smile, positive attitude and knowing how to get a good laugh from his Airmen. “VD is a hilarious guy to hang out with,” said Lt. Col. Drew Tancer, 910th Operations Group deputy commander. “He is always doing something to make people laugh. He will purposefully do things to see the reaction he gets from Airmen, especially new ones.” There are countless humorous stunts Van Dootingh has done throughout his career to make others laugh. “He will eat his pizza crust first all the way to the bottom point of the pizza and it totally messes with people,” said Tancer, laughing. “He loves to get a reaction from the young Airmen who look completely perplexed on why he is eating his pizza this way. He will also purposefully stick toilet paper to his feet after he leaves the bathroom just to see an Airman’s reaction and if they will actually say anything to him. These are all quite comical.” Lt. Col. Frank Galati, 910th Airlift Wing chief of safety who served 20 years with Van Dootingh, agreed he had quite the sense of humor. While Galati always got a kick out of watching someone take whatever bait Van Dootingh was giving out, he was fooled himself on at least one occasion. “We were flying from Rwanda to Sudan on election day in November of 2004,” laughed Galati. “I had gotten up to go to the bathroom, and when I came back, Van Dootingh told me that John Kerry had won the presidential election. I was stunned and could not believe how that happened. I was completely dumbfounded. VD let this go on for hours before he told me that they were just messing with me. He got me pretty good.” Van Dootingh performed countless missions, but his favorite kinds are humanitarian missions. “With humanitarian mission, you get immediate feedback that you have done something good,” said Van Dootingh. “I remember being in Rwanda and we threw a party for an orphanage where the majority of the orphans had lost their parents in the genocide. We bought presents for the kids. Remembering the look in their eyes when we gave them the toys, it was some of the best money I ever spent.” Throughout his military career, Van Dootingh has many unforgettable memories with Airmen, but there is one in particular that stood out. “I received a going away gift from an Airman, and he wanted to explain the meaning behind all of the colors,” said Van Dootingh. “When he got to the color red, he told me it stood for blood, because I saved his life. I can’t even describe how that made me feel. I don’t know what conversation I had that created that type of an impact. It was the most powerful thing an Airman has ever said to me.” Even as he transitions into retirement, Van Dootingh can’t help but pass along words of advice to his Airmen on many subjects. For example, Van Dootingh encouraged them to be ready for their “aha” moment, because he was not. “I was in the middle of Kyrgyzstan, and there was a situation where I was questioning the order of a superior,” said Van Dootingh. “I realized that it was not fair or right to have questioned that commander if I was not willing to do that job myself. At that moment I decided I wanted to be at that rank, but I was not ready. I was behind the power curve. I wish I had done more instead of the route I had to go, which was overload. You never know when you are going to have an ‘aha’ moment, so be ready for it.” While passing on another bit of advice, he noted that Airmen, at times, do not see the importance of repetitive training, but in his experience, he relates that there is a method to the madness. “You always remember your first mission, and mine was Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989,” explained Van Dootingh. “During the mission, I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing, I just did it. I remember afterwards that I reflected that the boring repetitive training I had to do was what made me able to do the job automatically without thinking. I was successful because of that type of training.” In retirement, Van Dootingh plans on volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol, where his inspiration to join the Air Force began many years ago. “I want to be the pilot that provides orientation flights to cadets,” said Van Dootingh. “Like me, I hope they get hooked on flying and join the Air Force.” Van Dootingh and his wife also recently bought a plane to enjoy with their family during retirement. “Excited to fly the grandkids from Cincinnati to my island home instead of taking the highway and the ferry,” said Van Dootingh. “What a great experience for them.” The end of Van Dootingh’s retirement speech brought together his love for flying and the Airmen whom he honorably served with, and for, during his military career. “When I take my final flight west into the setting sun and look back over my shoulder, my hope is that those who knew me will be glad they did,” said a teary-eyed Van Dootingh. “I can tell you, I am glad I knew each and every one of you.