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AFGSC operations legend retires after 44 year legacy of service

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mackenzie Golka

After more than 44 years of service, the deputy director of Air Force Global Strike Command’s operations and communications directorates is turning in his badge and retiring. 

Mike Morgan is known by many as the cornerstone of Air Force Global Strike Command nuclear operations.

The impact of Morgan’s career and retirement comes as no surprise to Gen. Anthony Cotton, AFGSC commander, who has known Morgan since 1986 when the two were stationed together at the 91st Strategic Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

“Mike is widely known as the go-to person in Air Force nuclear enterprise circles, whose wealth of knowledge, experience and work ethic has shaped the evolution of AFGSC for the last four decades,” Cotton said.  

“Nothing has changed except his portfolio has grown,” the general added.

Morgan’s retirement marks the departure of the last remaining original cadre from his directorate serving in the same position since the inception of AFGSC in 2009. Prior to 2009, the nation’s three intercontinental ballistic missile wings fell under Air Force Space Command, where Morgan initially served as an enlisted Ballistic Missile Analyst Technician on the Titan II and later, as a Nuclear and Missile Operations Officer on the Minuteman III.

Early career

At 16 years old, Morgan said he was certain that he would grow up to become an architect. That is, until his high school teacher delivered the news that he just didn’t have the “It” factor.

Faced with the type of uncertainty that encompasses nearly every teen at some point, Morgan said the path was made clear a few short weeks later at a school-wide assembly.

The Air Force recruiters in charge of the assembly advertised endless opportunities, the chance to see the world – you name it. By the assembly’s end, they had piqued Morgan’s interest.

He signed on the dotted line and enlisted via the Air Force Delayed Entry Program, which meant that his official enlistment would begin shortly following his graduation from high school in 1977.

Morgan’s wife Terri, who was his girlfriend at the time, supported his path. Her father had served in the Korean War, and the prospect of Morgan joining the service was an exciting departure from the farming community she grew up in.

With the world at their feet, Mike and Terri were married in a little red brick Southern Baptist church in Terri’s hometown of Elfrida, Arizona, on April 15, 1978. The couple jokes that the town of Elfrida still has no traffic signals.

Morgan’s first Air Force assignment took him to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, just a few short miles down the road from his hometown of Tucson, Arizona.

Big reputation

Morgan served as a Ballistic Missile Analyst Technician on the Titan II from 1978 to 1984. His missile savvy earned him selection for commissioning, and subsequent service as a Nuclear and Missile Operations officer on the latest weapon system, the Minuteman III at the 91st Strategic Missile Wing at Minot.

“He was the smartest crewmember in the wing,” said then-lieutenant Cotton.

Highly proficient in nuclear operations, Morgan was equally committed to serving others.

Keith Tonnies, Deputy Chief of AFGSC Current Operations, has known Morgan since the early 1990s when both he and Morgan were stationed at Minot.

“It was early in my missile career, yet it was evident that Mike was a strong presence to rely on for guidance and mentorship,” Tonnies said.

Others recognized these characteristics in Morgan, as well. In 1990, the Air Force Association presented Morgan with the coveted Air Force Association Gen. Thomas S. Power Outstanding Missile Crew Award.

“While other operator recognitions, such as Global Strike Challenge, represent prowess in operating the weapon system, the Power Award also considers the whole-person concept,” said Tonnies. “Mike is, and has always been, a force for good. He is brilliant, humble, hardworking, and the true epitome of the Total Airman Concept.”

Within the missile community, the Power Award is regarded as the pinnacle accomplishment for missile crews.

People first  

Though Morgan’s career accelerated quickly, he and Terri made every effort to also prioritize the needs of their children; Justin, born in 1979 and Melissa, born in 1989.

As one might expect, Morgan’s success hasn’t been without sacrifice. For a man with few regrets, the timbre of his voice shifts when he recollects the milestones, birthdays and holidays that he missed while away from home.

Morgan gives his wife tremendous credit for the sacrifices she made in support of his career. 

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Terri,” Morgan said.

As his career took off, Terri described how their relationship with the military evolved over the years. “In the beginning, it was just a job,” she said. “It took years for me to truly understand that the job doesn’t stop when you take the uniform off. Service is a sacrifice.”

Perhaps the most influential period of Morgan’s active-duty service was during his time as the 90th Missile Wing commander at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. For Terri, this was a real turning point.

“I realized then that it was all about taking care of those young people who don’t know what they’re getting into,” she said. “But they’re willing to make that sacrifice to be in the Air Force Family. As leadership, you need to be the head of that family.”

Looking back at his time as wing commander, Morgan described the role as “an out-of-body experience.”

“It’s hard to describe if you haven’t lived through it. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every single day,” he said. “One minute you’re patting a new dad on the back, and the next you’re issuing an Article 15.”

The former missile wing commander acknowledged that it was incredibly difficult not to be emotional about these decisions.

“I’ve always cared deeply about the people who were assigned to me,” Morgan said.


Regarded by some as an expert in military science, Morgan has played a role in some of the command’s most noteworthy accomplishments, including the creation of Air Force Global Strike Command itself.

“He was the perfect blend of experience, common sense, and tenacity to help form a new command,” Tonnies said.

Morgan’s influence also played a huge role in the proposal to elevate Global Strike Command leadership to a four-star general, from the previous three-star rank.

However, Morgan’s contributions are not limited to AFGSC.

In August 2001, then-Lt. Col. Morgan arrived in Washington D.C. to study at the National War College. Within weeks of arriving, Morgan’s class bore witness to the most devastating day in American history, a day that would completely rock the nation to its core, 9/11.

Like many Americans, Morgan recalled that day, and days following, with vivid detail.

“It started out like any other day in class,” he said. “Before we knew it, someone was running down the hallway yelling for everyone to turn on their televisions … that’s when the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

“It was completely surreal.”

Moments later, the Pentagon was hit.

“At that moment,” Morgan said, “thirteen students simultaneously turned around to see smoke roaring from the Pentagon … the country had changed in a major way within a matter of minutes.”

The following day, Morgan arrived back at the National War College ready to help.

“We were there studying national security strategy, but there was no national security strategy [at the time] to combat terrorism,” Morgan said.

Together alongside fellow classmate, then-Army Lt. Col. Jay Chambers, Morgan created and co-led a group of 30 students who wrote their own national security strategy to combat terrorism.

By November, Morgan’s student-group had garnered the attention of retired Navy Admiral (then-Captain) William McRaven, who served as the director for Strategic Planning in the Office of Combatting Terrorism on the National Security Council Staff.

“Jay and I were brought down to Virginia to work with members of the NSC to share and transfer our ideas into the initial National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism,” Morgan said. “That was an incredibly proud moment.”

Today, a framed letter from Condoleezza Rice, then-National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, hangs on his office wall, recognizing Morgan for his outstanding contributions at the national level.


With every story he tells, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Morgan is a proven leader, whose compassion and humility has shaped the Air Force’s portion of the nuclear enterprise. Terri describes him as “simply a remarkable, giving person.”

“When you ask Mike to do something he gets it done. It’s the way he’s always been,” she said.

His dedication to people and the mission are the reasons Morgan chose to work as a civilian following his retirement in 2012.

“I wasn’t finished yet,” the retired colonel said. “I still had a lot more to give.”

Now, after having served 6 years enlisted, 28 years as an officer and 10 years as a civilian, Morgan looks forward to retirement.

“I think I’ve given everything that I have to give to this command,” Morgan said.

Following his retirement, both Morgan and Terri expressed excitement about sharing their talents and love of people. They plan to give back to their newly adopted community in McKinney, Texas, where there will be plenty of room for their children and two grandsons to visit and play.

“We will truly miss having his expertise here at the headquarters,” Cotton said. The general will serve as the presiding official for Morgan’s retirement ceremony Oct. 8, 2021, at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.