WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE (WDTN) — After the change of command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base July 17, Colonel Cassie Barlow will no longer lead the 88th Air Base Wing. She is also retiring after a 26-year career with the Air Force.
“I hope I’m remembered for being a people person; for someone who really cared for people and who helped people achieve their goals,” she said.
For Col. Cassie Barlow, accomplishments are measured in relationships not rank. As evident in the ‘thank you’ notes now decorating her empty office shelves, or the laughs she shares with co-workers and the pride she takes in the service of Wright-Patterson airmen. “They’re some of the best of the best,” she said.
More than 27,000 people work at Wright-Patterson, 5,000 of whom are under her command in the 88th Air Base Wing; a unit described as the mayor’s office for the base. However, there’s about to be a new mayor in town. Colonel John Devillier will succeed Col. Barlow.
Her two predecessors left the base for another mission, but she’s retiring. I asked her what’s next. “That’s a good question,” she said. “I don’t know what’s next, and it was a family decision to not make another move.”
She, her husband and daughter will stay in the Miami Valley. Her daughter will be a senior in high school. She said she encourages her daughter to find her dream and follow it. She said it’s a message she received from her mother, whom she calls her hero.
Barlow grew up in a tight-knit Italian-American home in New York. She is the first in her family to choose the military as a career.
“It was an ROTC scholarship that lead me to it,” she said. “And here I am 26 years later, and just enjoying life everyday.”
A number of high-ranking women work at the base. General Janet Wolfenbarger serves as commander of Air Force Materiel and is one of only three, four-star females in the U.S. military. Still, less than 20 percent of the officers in the Air Force are women.
“I think we’re still working on it,” said Barlow. “I think we’re still working on a more diverse force.”
I asked what stands out most in her nearly three decades of service. She said the 2011 Frankfurt Airport shooting that killed two U.S. airmen. They were from a unit under her command.
“You know, going to tell the 21-year-old spouse about her husband who had just been killed… those days you never forget and those days change you for the rest of your life,” said Col. Barlow.
Another moment that sticks with her, the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, and furloughs, during her tenure at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“To tell people we’ve worked with for many, many, many years that you don’t need to come to work and I’m sorry we’re not going to pay you , uh, wow, that was never a situation that I ever wanted to be involved in and I didn’t have a choice,” she said.
Barlow said we’re not out of the woods yet in regards to sequestration. She said 2016 will be another year of tough budget decisions for the base, but she’s confident in its stability.
“It’s a very important base,” she said. “Very important missions here at Wright-Patterson and we’ve got great synergies. We have amazing partners off base, just amazing, and I would say world-renowned there too. I mean, I’ve never seen a community that is so supportive of a base before, I’ve just never seen it.”
As she leaves, her message to the Miami Valley, coworkers and airmen echoes the ‘thank you’ cards on her shelves.
“Thank you, is the primary thing I’ll say. It’s been an amazing honor and a huge privilege.”
She joked that her husband told her she has 48 hours to decide what she’ll do next. Colonel Barlow said she’ll take a little longer than that. She said she would like to find an organization she’s passionate about that allows her to continue to contribute to the community.