HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- During the waning days of the Carter administration in January 1981, a young co-op student from Northeastern University in Boston arrived at Hanscom Air Force Base looking to gain some experience and make a little money.
“It was just a chance for me to look at the government, and for the government to look at me,” said Pat Dagle, chief of the Force Protection Division. “The funny thing is, I wasn’t even supposed to go on the initial interview. Someone else backed out, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I got that chance.”
Thirty-six-and-a-half years later, having taken on more than 10 major assignments spanning the full breadth of Hanscom’s mission set, Dagle is set to retire. In his wake, he leaves a legacy of accomplishment, and of learning from and mentoring others.
In those early days, Dagle quickly realized that knowledge and experience aren’t the exclusive province of organizational superiors.
“I talked to everyone,” he said. “And I learned a lot from everyone; I learned as much or more from talking with the secretaries as I did talking to the GS-12s and 13s above me.”
Naturally loquacious, Dagle never changed his approach. Throughout all phases of his career, he kept lines of communication open with subordinates, peers and superiors while also working closely with industry partners and professional associations such as the Air Force Association and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
All of that helped as he participated in and eventually led teams that achieved major mission objectives. Some achievements required operators to accept technological paradigm shifts. This was true of the first major program Dagle worked on, the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, better known as JTIDS.
“I was with some old Tactical Air Command guys one night, and they pulled me over and said we’d never put JTIDS on their planes,” Dagle said, noting then-pervasive fears about switching from voice to digital communications in the cockpit. Years later, however, he was at conference where a new generation of warfighters said they wouldn’t go to war without JTIDS.
“By then – and likely well before then – they’d come to see all the advantages digital communication offered them, how it allowed them to stay focused on what they needed to focus on,” he said.
Being part of teams that brought game-changing technology to warfighters, despite obstacles, has been a hallmark of Dagle’s career. And it occurred in jobs that dealt with strategic communications, tactical communications, strategic command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, system integration, and of course force protection.
The highpoints of such a career are too extensive to list, but in addition to the JTIDS success, his work developing and sustaining upgraded equipment for key command centers – including NORAD and the National Military Command Center among many others, all of which he visited – stands out. So too does his stint in the old C2 Integration Division, known more commonly by its two-letter designation CX.
“We took the entire kill chain and broke it down by who does what, when and where,” he said. This enabled the Air Force to see how interconnected the various pieces were and how changes or cuts in one area, such as communication systems, would affect so many others.
Dagle also recalled fondly the first C2 Summit, sponsored jointly by Hanscom and the local Paul Revere Chapter of the AFA, where then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper gave a forceful and often fiery speech about the compelling need to integrate command and control systems.
And of course there’s his work leading the Force Protection Division. He cited recent OSD recognition of the unit’s counter-unmanned aerial systems efforts. He also noted the division had brought back nuclear system security work and taken on efforts for Global Strike Command, AFCENT, AFRICOM and many other organizations.
“We’ve truly become a global force for integrated base defense systems,” he said.
He takes particular pride in how he’s entrusted his company grade officers and other junior personnel to lead many of these efforts. It’s important to give them the support they need but not impede them, he said.
“You’ve got to see people, recognize their talent, nurture it and then let them do the job,” he said, emphasizing that this has been a core philosophy throughout his career.
And as for advice for those coming along now, Dagle keeps it pretty simple.
“Commit yourself to what you’re doing and don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” he said.