Married: Penny Cauthen. They have two children, Drew, 20, and Kayla, 19.
Occupation: 134th air refueling wing commander
Tommy Cauthen never wanted to be a military pilot, and he made sure his dad knew it.
The Jefferson County High School graduate’s dad flew at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base from 1958 to 1983, but it just wasn’t something the younger Cauthen thought about doing for a career.
“When I was 20 and started thinking about what I was doing with my life, Dad came to me and said, ‘They’re taking applications for pilot training at the base if you’re interested.’ I shut him down. I said, ‘Dad, I do not want to be in the military.’ This was in about 1980.”
Cauthen says he got into school and decided he didn’t know which direction he wanted to go. “I went back to him and asked him to tell me more. Then I talked to Col. Billy Linebaugh, the wing commander, and he said, ‘We’ll put you in the mix.’”
In the meantime, he was taking flying lessons on his own at the airport in Morristown. He enlisted a year and a half later. Cauthen started out in operations flying airplanes, became an aircraft commander, an instructor and an evaluator and was hired fulltime in 1991. He went to Operations Group commander to maintenance where he earned the rank of colonel.
Then the opportunity came open to be vice commander. Cauthen said the idea of one day becoming wing commander came to mind about a decade ago. “It is something I really started thinking about wanting to do maybe eight or nine years ago,” he says. “You’re always preparing yourself for the next thing that could happen, getting your ducks in row in case opportunities come open.” Earlier this year, he took over as commander after Col. Tim Dearing retired.
Here is Col. Tommy Cauthen:
What is your favorite quote from television or a movie?
“What we have here is failure to communicate.” From the movie “Cool Hand Luke.”
What is your favorite material possession?
“That would be my 2003 (100th Anniversary) Harley-Davidson Road King Classic. My son refers to it as “The Precious.” It is pearl white with chrome everything and lots of black leather.
What are you reading currently?
“I just started reading a book that a friend gave me called, ‘The Reagan I Knew,’ by William F. Buckley, Jr. I’m a big Ronald Reagan fan. I also love John Grisham books and have probably read 10 or more of his novels.”
What was your most embarrassing moment?
“Until about 2009, I held the distinct honor of being the starting quarterback for Jefferson County High School’s worst football defeat in history, 44 - 0 against Daniel Boone High School in 1978. I threw an interception in the end zone and fumbled twice, both returned the length of the field for touchdowns. On the second fumble, one of our seniors came off the sideline and tackled the opposing player as he was running for glory. Unfortunately for me, that act of frustration immortalized the event in Jefferson County High School football lore. They actually showed the playback of that game to my son’s football team when he was a junior. He came home telling about it, and I had to fess up that I was in fact the one who initiated the whole sequence of events. My wife and kids had the game put on DVD and gave it to me for Christmas.”
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
“Take my wife to all the great places I’ve been during my military career. While she’s been at home raising our kids, I’ve been traveling the world.”
“Learn a foreign language - It still bothers me that I don’t speak a foreign language.”
“Learn to scuba dive - Followed by a scuba diving trip of course. Preferably with no sharks.”
What is one word others often use to describe you and why?
“Determined” or some might even say stubborn. I just don’t give up very easily.”
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
“I would be more patient, and I wouldn’t have such a short temper.”
What is your passion?
“Serving my nation and state in the Tennessee Air National Guard is my passion and has been for the past 27 years. To be the 134th Air Refueling Wing commander is a dream come true and is my honor and privilege.”
With whom, living or dead, would you most like to have a long lunch?
“That would be my Dad, Mel Cauthen, who died three years ago. We wouldn’t have lunch though; we would go play golf. You never get too old to want to talk to your Dad.”
If you could go back in time for a week, what time period or year would you visit?
“Probably the time period immediately following World War II would be my choice. The sacrifices that entire generation made to save the world from Nazi Germany and Japanese aggression were incredible.”
What is the best present you ever received in a box?
“Well, I would probably have to say my iPhone.”
Other than your parents, who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?
“I’ve had the privilege of serving under a lot of great leaders during my military career. Col (Ret) Billy Linebaugh selected me for Pilot Training. Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Fred Forster was a huge proponent of “Servant Leadership.”
Do you Myspace, Facebook or Twitter?
“I’ve only been on Facebook for about six months now.”
What’s the worst job you have ever had?
“Right out of high school I took a summer job working at a countertop plant making molded countertops. There was no air conditioning, and we worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.”
What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon and why?
“Pink Panther was my favorite. He was such a cool cat and never had to say a word.”
What irritates you?
“People who make decisions for selfish reasons or greed really irritate me.”
What’s one place in Blount County everyone should visit?
“I may be a little biased but McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base would be a great place to visit. We are about the third largest employer in Blount County with 1,500-plus people and 360 acres of property and our contribution to the local economy is $3.1 million per week.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself at 18?
“Treat school like it’s your job, be more appreciative of the opportunities your parents have given you because it’s not all about you. Play more golf with your Dad, and hang on, it’s going to be a fun ride.”
What is your greatest fear?
“As a parent, most of your worrying is about your kids and their safety.”
I still can’t quite get the hang of…
“Chipping. I’m a decent golfer when I get to play regularly, but I absolutely stink at chipping.”
If you could do one impulsive thing, what would it be?
“It would be fun to hop on the motorcycle and just hit the road for about a month or so with no particular plan.”