JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
As she enters the room, she flips on the light, illuminating her office. The familiar face of a man who helped guide her Air Force career resides in the picture frame close to her desk, reminding her every day of the leader she aspires to be. The silver eagles pinned to the epaulettes of her service coat have a history all their own, passed down from grandfather to granddaughter. Over six decades separate their time in this position, but U.S. Air Force Col. Melissa Stone, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing commander, leads the same Wing her grandfather did 64 years ago.
In the early years of the Air Force, the 363rd ISR Wing was known as the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, and focused on electronic reconnaissance and warfare, as well as tactical reconnaissance. From 1951-1954, John Robert Dyas, retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen., commanded this wing.
“He was a tough but compassionate leader who put his heart into everything he did,” Stone said. “He worked hard, led by example and wasn’t afraid to tackle the most challenging problems.”
Some members of the armed forces have the chance to serve with family members or continue a long established family tradition. For Stone, the gravity of stepping into the same role once held by her grandfather was a driving force in the exploration of her family’s past; guiding her future as a commander.
“When I was prepping to take command of the Wing, I visited the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell, and reviewed many documents from my grandfather’s time in command. Certainly there were differences between then and now but also some similarities,” Stone said. “When he was in command, the nation and the still-new Air Force were transitioning from the end of World War II and working on what would be needed for a different kind of conflict in the future.”
For this family, serving and leading are practically hereditary.
Stone’s father and Dyas’ son-in-law, Butch Smith, retired U.S. Air Force Col., noted the similarities between Stone and her grandfather.
“Melissa’s command style is collaborative. She always leads by example and is directive only when necessary,” Smith said. “She and her grandfather were both tough but fair and consistent commanders.”
Dyas passed away in 2004, but his belief that Airmen and their wellbeing are integral to the service’s success was passed on. He was key to the establishment of the Air Force Military Personnel Center, now the Air Force Personnel Center, and became its first commander. Stone recalls Dyas’ continued focus on the people that make up the Air Force, and continues to emulate her grandfather’s ideology.
“He knew people were the most important asset the service had and was ahead of his time in the idea of talent management,” Stone said. “We have an amazing legacy as Airmen, and a very bright future; each of us plays an important role in that future.”
Of all the lessons Stone’s grandfather imparted, Stone remembers one specific piece of advice that helps guide her as commander to this day.
“He told me to do what was right, and not be deterred by politics,” Stone said. “Because of him, I know to stand up for my seat at the table and to have the guts to speak out even when my words are unpopular.”
According to Smith, looking at Stone’s career, he can’t help but express his joy and pride for his daughter’s accomplishments.
“I am extremely proud to have made the Air Force my career and even more so when Mel decided to do the same,” Smith said. “If her grandfather were with us today I can only imagine how very proud he would be.”
Stone has the privilege of walking the same path as her grandfather, albeit generations apart. Rather than trying to fill his shoes precisely, she honors what he has done by building a legacy all her own while imparting the lessons she learned from him.
“There is a lot to learn from others if we take the time to listen and reflect,” Stone said. “The mission has evolved over time but the heart of the Wing is still the same—our amazing Airmen.”