By Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle, Air Force District of Washington Command Information
/ Published June 01, 2018
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- As thanks for officiating his former students’ promotion ceremony May 5, the note on Col. Richard G. Evans’s gift box read, simply: “Leader Mentor Friend … No combat sodas.”
The phrase marked the culmination of nearly two decades of mentorship and friendship that two West Virginia University Air Force ROTC cadets carried with them under now-retired Evans’s tutelage from their pin-on as lieutenants in 1999 to their pin-on as colonels at the Air Force Memorial in 2018.
Col. Jason Camilletti, a Marine Corps War College student in Quantico, Va., and Col. Dan Cooley, a National War College student at Ft. McNair, D.C., described their WVU Mountaineer journey -- and having the same man promote them at their providentially-aligned milestones -- as “poetic.”
Promoting Camilletti and Cooley in 1999 would be Evans’s final action as an active duty colonel before his friend, Maj. Gen. Silas Johnson, formerly commander of Air Mobility Warfare Center, Fort Dix, N.J., retired him at the very same event.
Camilletti explained just how the phrase “combat sodas” reflects their relationship with Evans, who began his tenure at WVU in 1996 as an aerospace science professor and commander of Detachment 915.
“That little line, ‘no combat sodas’ means, hey, if you’re gonna do something, do it right; no detail is too small,” Camilletti said. “No one wants a warm soda, so if you’re gonna get people together to have sodas, make sure they’re ice cold, put your effort into it.”
Cooley also described Evans’ resonating leadership by example and skill at introducing the cadets to the blue-suiter culture despite there being no active duty Air Force bases in West Virginia.
“He really captured something special for all of us, and no kidding, led from the front,” Cooley said. “I remember simple things like [physical training] in the morning; he’s dressed in his PT gear, working out with us, and it set the tone. If he was asking us to do something, he was right there with us, and of course teaching us the right way to do it along the way.”
Following his retirement, Evans, an alumnus of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina in Charleston, continued to mentor cadets there while concurrently strengthening his friendship and mentorship bonds with Camilletti, Cooley, and others in the tight-knit WVU class.
Camilletti, bound for RAF Lakenheath, England, as the 48th Operations Group commander in June 2018, noted that he and several of his classmates have been stationed together over the years along with his wife, Meredith, an Air Force officer who also calls WVU her alma mater.
Meanwhile, Cooley will head to Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, this summer as the U.S. Transportation Command liaison to the U.S. Pacific Command.
“So from a relatively small state and a very small detachment, there are a lot of tentacles to this thing and it just made May 5 extremely special for each of us,” Camilletti said of the ceremony and its attendees, which included classmates and family members.
The professor and his wife, Nancy -- affectionately known as “Mama Evans” -- realized the responsibilities of growing new Air Force officers extended far beyond the classroom, so the couple often included the cadets in social events, had them over for dinner, and even met some of their fiancées.
“Our discussions were very open, ranging from being in the Air Force, to finances, to proper etiquette, and anything else they wanted to talk about,” Evans said.
Of the invaluable guidance Evans bestowed upon them, Camilletti asserts that he and Cooley will continue to pay it forward. “Every opportunity you get when you see potential in someone, take them under your wing and show them the way, just like we were shown, whether as lieutenants or as newly-minted colonels, you continue to do that.”
And much like Evans, Camilletti and Cooley said they are assured the tradition of service will continue into the next generation.
“This really is a story about friends who have become family in the truest sense of the word,” Cooley said. “And in a handful of years, there’s a great chance that some of us will still be in service when my two teenage boys are old enough to join, whether that’s ROTC, enlisting out of high school, or attending the U.S. Air Force Academy.”
Evans said that although he recognized his students’ potential early on, less apparent at the time was the lasting impression his mentorship would have on them.
“I realized early that Jason and Dan were special, and in fact I told them prior to commissioning that if they stayed in the Air Force, I was confident they'd rise to the grade of colonel,” Evans said. “And when that day came, I'd be saving the colonel rank to pass on to them that I'd worn on active duty".
It was a promise all three men remembered and honored.
“That I was able to instill leadership lessons in them they carried throughout their careers means everything to me,” Evans reflected. “I'm amazingly humbled by that thought.”