New Guard Air Chief Flying Into Role
At the end of July, newly promoted Brig. Gen. David Cochran assumed command of the West Virginia Air National Guard. He is the Assistant Adjutant General - Air and he is the second African American to hold that position in the state’s history.
Cochran is a graduate of the U.S Air Force Academy and went on to become a pilot. Originally from Virginia, he joined the West Virginia Air National Guard in 1998.
Cochran served the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg in numerous leadership capacities before taking over as the Assistant Adjutant General - Air for the entire state.
He spoke with Eric Douglas about his new position.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: Let's talk about who you are, where you came from.
Cochran: I'm Brigadier General, recently promoted, David Cochran. I kind of consider myself a West Virginian because I've been working with the West Virginia National Guard for so long but I'm actually a Virginian. I grew up in central Virginia, Cumberland County, Virginia. Post high school, I joined the Air Force, went through the Air Force Academy, actually. And once I got my commission with the Air Force, I was lucky enough that they sent me to pilot training. I did about 10 years of active duty in the Air Force, and then I became a member of the West Virginia Air National Guard.
Douglas: You've flown 7,000-plus hours in cargo planes and heavy lift aircraft.
Cochran: Exactly. So my whole Air Force career has been in mobility type airplanes. So cargo aircraft. And I've been fortunate, mostly through the guard experience, that I've had a chance to fly a few different airplanes, which has been very exciting.
Douglas: Tell me about that. Tell me about some of those different planes you fly.
Cochran: When I started my active duty career, I finished pilot training and went to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, home of the C-130. So I cut my teeth on the C-130, which is a tactical cargo transport platform. And of course, we were very busy through the ‘90s just as we are now. So throughout my career, we've been very busy with the business of airlift.
Once I got done with the C-130s and Little Rock, I went on to Andrews Air Force Base as an active duty pilot, and I flew a C-21, which most folks would recognize as a Learjet. So I did that and then post that tour, I converted to the guard, where we were flying C-130s, again, right here in West Virginia. And then of course at Martinsburg, where I joined the guard in West Virginia, we flew the C-130, went on to the gigantic C-5 aircraft and currently they're flying the C-17 at Martinsburg.
Douglas: Let's talk about your civilian career. As I understand it, you're planning to continue with your civilian career as well.
Cochran: So the guard is made up, as you know, of citizen airmen and soldiers. The nation's reserve component, the National Guard here in West Virginia, is no different. So the majority of our airmen, and our soldiers are citizen airmen and soldiers, which means they have some other career that they're probably pursuing. And they're doing their National Guard duty and service as a second activity. I'm no different. I am a drill status guardsman. My full-time job is with United Airlines. My part-time military duty is as the Assistant Adjutant General for Air here in West Virginia. So I have both and I pride myself on that, too, because I think all citizen airmen, especially in our West Virginia National Guard, need to have a visible reminder that they can achieve and do what they want to do and still make it to the highest level within the organization.
Douglas: You have flown into combat situations. Let's talk about that just a little bit. Where have you been that people were less than happy to see you arriving?
Cochran: Well, my career started with the first Gulf War. I was in training at the time, so I missed it, but post-Gulf War we were right over there, and the supporting roles of all the stuff that went on there. And it really has continued. So I can go through the European conflict with Bosnia. Obviously, we went back into Iraq, into Afghanistan. So the West Virginia National Guard has been a part of all that. And so have I.
But some of the most rewarding things that we also get to do in the mobility side of the Air National Guard is the humanitarian missions. The earthquake in my young career. We were helping with Somalia and food relief. Of course, it's a different environment now. But whether it be food relief efforts, disaster assistance, whether it be flooding from hurricanes, earthquakes, that type of response, that human humanitarian mission is a rewarding part of what we support in addition to the state mission that we have here. Because you know, West Virginia is always in need, during a rainy season, of guardsmen to come and support. So those are some of the more rewarding missions when you actually get to help your local community and participate and maybe a government or a state response effort for some type of humanitarian relief or effort.
Douglas: In the last several years, the guard has been extremely active in West Virginia. Do you see that kind of thing continuing?
Cochran: That's going to be enduring. That's my role right now to make sure that we have citizen airmen and soldiers that are ready, capable and trained to support our stated mission and our national mission.
That's always going to be a part of what we do and a perfect example is the state pandemic response effort, and that's ongoing to today. So that's always going to be, there's always going to be some contingency or emergent crisis that's going to require our guardsmen to do what we've trained to do.
Douglas: One of the things that was mentioned in the press release about your new role is that you're the second African American to assume this position. First off, is that something that enters your mind, and I guess the second question would be, are you looking forward to a day when we don't feel it's necessary to mention that?
Cochran: I do. I do look forward to that day. And I normally don't think about it unless it's something that is brought to my attention. Diversity is important and inclusion important. And it's one of the top priorities for the West Virginia National Guard, as well. And it's a priority for me to make sure that we represent our population. There's talent at every level, and through every culture. So my goal is to make sure that we are diverse, we are inclusive, and we are inspiring to everybody, because we want to have the best and the brightest of our youth today come and join us in the West Virginia National Guard.
Douglas: Tell me something that nobody else knows about you.
Cochran: No one knows this because it just recently happened. But they don't know that I can actually cane a rocking chair.
Douglas: That's a unique skill.
Cochran: I'm not sure how skilled I am at it. Time will tell how it lasts.
Douglas: So in all your spare time between flying for United and flying for the guard, now assuming command here, you've taken up caning rocking chairs?
Cochran: I took up caning a single chair, and I will probably not do anymore. But I say that to say I like working with my hands. If I can get into the garage, if I can pull out a tool, if I can do something that that gives me the satisfaction of a little mission completion, which sometimes you need that too because a lot of times when you're doing things at a strategic level, it may take years to get something to fruition.
I do tend to pick up little projects. I still cut the grass. I don't even make my son cut the grass. I get out and cut the grass because I like to do the little things to stay involved with using my hands and doing some things around the house and little projects working on cars. And not a lot of people know that.