By Master Sgt. Beth Holliker and Staff Sgt. Nic Kuetemeyer, 180th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 22, 2013
Swanton, Ohio -- Here to serve is not only a motto for 180th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Steven S. Nordhaus, it has also been his way of life since joining the U.S. Air Force 28 years ago.
Nordhaus will continue serving as he begins a new chapter of his career in December, as the executive assistant for Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass, in Washington D.C.
Nordhaus is a seasoned command pilot in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, with more than three thousand flying hours with the U.S. Air Force, including 83 combat missions in support of Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Nordhaus knew at an early age that he wanted to fly. "Growing up, I flew with my father and uncles regularly," said Nordhaus. "Each time we took off, I knew I wanted to fly for a living."
Nordhaus explained his dream to his father, who suggested he talk with a neighbor, retired Maj. Don Schmenk, a pilot who flew over 235 combat missions over Vietnam. Schmenk shared his story and love of flying, cementing Nordhaus' decision to fly. While he was learning to drive, he spent hours with his father learning to fly and honing his skills to earn his pilot's license. His dream was to one day be a fighter pilot.
Nordhaus began his military career in 1985 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. While earning his engineering degree at the Academy, he received the Outstanding Cadet in Soaring award, which helped to secure him a seat in the Euro/NATO Joint Jet Pilot Undergraduate Training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
Throughout his active duty career, Nordhaus was stationed at various F-16 units around the country including Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., Shaw AFB, S.C. and Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. He also served a one-year tour at Kunsan Air Base in Korea before making the transition from active duty to the Air National Guard in 1998.
A native of Ottawa, Ohio, Nordhaus joined the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, located in Swanton. This allowed him, along with his wife and children to put down roots and be closer to his family.
After returning to Ohio, Nordhaus was assigned to the 112th Fighter Squadron within the 180th Fighter Wing as a flight commander, instructor pilot and as an evaluator pilot. At this time, he was considered a drill status guardsman, performing duty with the wing one weekend a month with additional days throughout the year to maintain F-16 training requirements. When he wasn't performing military duty, Nordhaus was a pilot for Delta Airlines. The airline has a tradition of supporting its employees who are members of the Army and Air National Guard and Reserve. Their support led them to be recognized in 2011 with the Patriot Award, by the Department of Defense organization, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, for outstanding support of its employees who are members of the National Guard. Delta has continually supported Nordhaus' throughout his military career.
Nordhaus' proven dedication to the wing and the mission led to his selection as the 112th Fighter Squadron Commander in 2002. The unparalleled knowledge and expertise Nordhaus brought to the squadron and the wing set him above his peers and led to his 2006 assignment as the first commander of the Aerospace Control Alert mission within the 180th Fighter Wing.
The 180th picked up the alert mission as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Commission, however the mission was not officially operational at the 180th until October 2008.
As the ACA commander, Nordhaus had the sole responsibility of acquiring the funding and personnel to continue operating the mission out of the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan until funding could be secured to build aircraft shelters and personnel quarters at the 180th. His innovative ideas and ability aided in moving the mission to the wing and making it fully operational eight years earlier than scheduled. By transferring the mission to the wing early, the 180th ACA team contributed to the saving of over 10 million dollars it would have cost to continue operating the mission out of the Michigan base.
"He has the natural ability to link many disparate agencies across the wing and community into a single goal," said Maj. Gen. Mark Bartman, Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Ohio Air National Guard. "Successfully moving the mission from Selfridge ANGB, Mich., to Toledo ANGB, Ohio in approximately 18 months was a herculean effort that he embraced wholeheartedly."
The efforts of Nordhaus directly contributed to the success of the alert mission, but he credits the bulk of the success to his handpicked team. The team continually demonstrated tremendous passion and dedication for this mission, which is essential to the nation's homeland defense. The outstanding efforts of the team led the 180th to be named the Aerospace Control Alert Unit of the Year for two consecutive years in 2010 and 2011.
"The members of the 180th Fighter Wing are incredible people with terrific working skills, attitudes and capabilities," said Nordhaus. "There is no mission our wing cannot accomplish because of our smiling, charged-up warriors who are always willing to accept the next challenge, no matter how big or small the task."
Following the wing's success with the alert mission, Nordhaus was named as the Vice Wing Commander in 2009 and then as the Wing Commander in 2011.
One of his most important goals as commander has been to care for his Airmen. "I feel very fortunate to work with and provide support for our Airmen who are out there, doing the mission every day," said Nordhaus. "Making sure they have the tools, resources and facilities they need to do the mission of protecting our state and our nation."
Though caring for Airmen has been a more prominent responsibility as a commander, it is also a part of who he is as a person and Airman himself. Most notably was the dedication he showed to his Airmen during an overseas deployment for the 180th Fighter Wing to Al Udeid, Qatar in 2005. As the detachment commander for the wing, not only was he instrumental in bringing the wing home after a 60-day rotation with a 100% success rate for mission accomplishment, he also took it upon himself to ensure that every Airman understood their role and importance to the mission.
During the deployment, Nordhaus made it a personal mission to travel around the Air Base to visit with every one of the more than 250 deployed 180th Airman, to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the mission and foster their understanding that their specific roles while deployed directly contributed to the success of the overall mission. He also used the time with each Airman to seek feedback on what he could do to help the Airmen, both personally and professionally, throughout the deployment.
"Every day brings new challenges and each day brings new issues and tasks that our wing faces together," said Nordhaus. "We come together and use our expertise to work through each challenge to ensure that we are doing what our nation is asking of us, which is to provide combat ready Airman to execute our federal, state and community missions."
Throughout his 28 years of military service, Nordhaus has strived to learn and grow, learning from those most important to him. His wife and five children are his closest support network and have been influential throughout his military career.
"Most of all, it's about the importance of family. I really consider my family as military members as well," said Nordhaus. "It's my family that allows me to serve."
His military family, the men and women of the 180th Fighter Wing and every other Airman, Soldier, Sailor and Marine he has ever met and worked with have supported him and have made an impact on him personally and professionally.
"Every day I learn something new about myself, how to be a better leader, a better mentor and how to provide guidance to our Airmen out there," said Nordhaus. "Over the years I have taken all of the little nuggets of wisdom I've learned from my family, my commanders and enlisted Airmen and applied them to become a better commander."
"Really, it's about looking ahead and moving forward, reaching out to others and taking care of each other," Nordhaus said. "It's about recognizing that tough times don't last, but people do. When we work together and help each other, we can get through everything. The people in my life have taught me so much and I'm going to take those experiences with me. I will use common sense and focus on doing the right thing and our core values in order to do the tasks I am charged with in my new position and for the rest of my military career."
In December, Nordhaus and his family will begin their new journey as he transitions into his new position as the executive assistant for the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, in Washington D.C.
Gen. Grass is responsible for ensuring that almost a half million National Guard members are accessible, capable and ready to protect the homeland and provide combat ready forces for the Army and Air Force. Nordhaus will be responsible in assisting him in executing his role as he advises the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense, National Security Council and the Department of Defense. Grass is the official channel to the National Guard Adjutant Generals and Governors throughout the states."
"There is no one more qualified for the job than Col. Nordhaus," Bartman said. "He has cultivated relationships at the national level that will serve him well as he transitions to the new job. From the time he served on active duty, he either served with or for many of the other active duty officers who serve in similar positions for other senior leaders in the Department of Defense. I expect that he will set the standard for all executive assistants who have to follow him."
Though Nordhaus and his family are excited for the move and new opportunities, leaving the 180th Fighter Wing and the supportive network of the wing's surrounding communities is bittersweet.
"I'm going to miss the community, the Airmen and the relationships," Nordhaus said. "The military family that we have out here, I'll miss them tremendously."
"To the 180th members, I'd say that I've been extremely proud and humbled to serve with them," said Nordhaus. "I wish them the best and I want them to continue with the motto 'Here to Serve,' when we do that, it makes us even better. It will make the 180th and the nation better as we serve with distinction. I joined to live our core values, Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do. They are three simple values, but they mean so much and they really add a great amount of power, passion and capability to our lives."