In order to understand the essential functions of each group in the Missile Wing and get an in-depth life and career perspective from Team Minot’s senior leaders, the Northern Sentry is running a series of articles talking to the people who understand the most about the importance of their group: the Group Commanders themselves.
The second in this series of interviews is Col Patrick Baum, Commander, 91st Maintenance Group. In order to get a more personalized view of the mission, he and his spouse Jessie Baum agreed to be interviewed and share some of the personal aspects of what the 91 MXG is about, why it’s important and what they have both gone through to get to this position in their Air Force journey.
Col Baum admittedly came into the role with a little anticipation last summer. As a career missile operator, he has never had first-hand knowledge about the maintenance side of the intercontinental ballistic missile mission. However, he knew the Air Force put him in this position for a reason and he was excited to learn more about the ins and outs of this part, and has been very impressed at how deeply the Airmen know their jobs, perform tasks well and take care of business.
NS: Please explain in your own words what the 91 MXG does and how each of the squadrons work together:
Col Baum: We’re responsible for generating combat power and ensuring it is available for execution on the worst possible day in human history. If that day ever comes. We maintain the nuclear deterrent stationed here. The 91 MMXS is responsible primarily for dispatching out to the field to do repair actions. The 791 MXS is primarily here on base. They prepare equipment and tools for dispatch and do back shop maintenance.
NS: What would happen to the base if your group could not perform its functions?
Col Baum: We would very quickly devolve into zero capability. Right now we’re at about a 99.3% alert rate, which means that 99.3% of the missiles that are out there are operational and ready to go at a moment’s notice. But that’s through the significant efforts of my team here. The minute [our work] stops, [the missiles] start to deteriorate really quickly.
NS: What is the most important foundation of your command leadership philosophy?
Col Baum: It’s got to be the people. They’re the ones that facilitate the mission. I feel like as a group commander, my primary role is to be a cheerleader and to try and encourage the guys that are actually doing the work.
NS: When in your AF career did you realize being a group commander was a goal?
Col Baum: I don’t know that it was ever a goal. I’ve always been very hesitant about commanding, because it was a lot of responsibility. I want to do well in my career and what my [current] job is; I want to perform well. So, performing well means also being chosen to do jobs like this. So I do value it. It’s a confirmation that all the hard work you’ve put in up to this point has been worthwhile to the Air Force. Work hard and everything else will take care of itself. It’s good advice for everyone.
NS: So what comes next in your career?
Col Baum: Retirement. I have a countdown timer on my phone.
Mrs. Baum: We’ll probably move to Utah. That’s where most of our family is from. We were high school sweethearts, so we met there and most of our family is still there.
Col. Baum: I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. In my mind sometimes I think I want to do something totally outside of the box. I could maybe go to PA school and work for [family].
Mrs. Baum: Yeah, still figuring it out.
NS: What do you want spouses and families in the 91 MXG to be aware of or prepare for when at Minot AFB?
Col Baum: So having been to all three [missile] bases, I can confidently say that Minot is better. I think the town [here] is better. I think how close knit the people are within a unit is better to include the relationship between the Minot community and the base.
Mrs. Baum: I would say it’s cold here, but it’s been amazing. I’ve learned in my 25 years of being a military spouse that you have to try and make the best of everywhere you’re stationed. If you don’t like where you’re stationed, try and find the positive things about it and then you might grow to love that place.
NS: Looking back on your AF career, what is something that you wish you had known, personally or professionally?
Col Baum: After 25 years in the Air Force, I appreciate humility probably more than anything else. I wish I had recognized the value of that quality much earlier in my career. It often takes a big failure at some point to help us understand the importance of humility. Luckily mine occurred early enough for me to overcome. I think I could have been a more effective leader had I recognized it sooner.
Mrs. Baum: I wish I had known how fast time flies. I can’t believe it has already been 25 years since he commissioned. I wish I had taken more time to enjoy just being a military spouse. I wish I had known more about the Key Spouse Program at the beginning.
NS: What sacrifices have you made over the AF career? Personally or professionally?
Col Baum: One of the core values is service before self and so if the Air force asks you to do something, while it’s a sacrifice, all service is a sacrifice. I don’t know that I have necessarily viewed it as that though. But I could see if you’re looking at it from the outside, giving up 26 years and moving around 12 times and uprooting your family every few years; that’s definitely a sacrifice.
Moving kids into different schools, especially as they get to the teenage years like junior high and high school, are really difficult for kids. I guess the sacrifice that I was making personally was kind of putting my children through that. It’s hard, but it’s good for them and builds resiliency.
Mrs. Baum: It has been hard not living close to our families. We like spending time with our extended families and we’ve missed many milestones.
NS: Has there been anyone in the past that has specifically influenced you for the better?
Col Baum: My dad has been my inspiration for my entire career. He was enlisted in the
Army before he went to AFROTC and graduated at the top of his class. His first assignment out of college was at White Sands testing the BOMARC air defense missiles as a brand new AF Lt. After a couple of years in the AF he realized he missed the Army life and transitioned back over to the green side. He may be the only career Army officer that wears a basic missile operations badge. He served a total of 33 years and retired as an O-6. He officiated my commissioning and every one of my promotions since then. The last one was at the National Archives in front of the US Constitution. He inspired me to work hard and do a good job no matter what the AF asked me to do and that has been my abiding philosophy.
Mrs. Baum: My mom. She taught me to always put my family first and to stay strong even through tough times. She’s the most kind, giving, loving person I know. She inspired me to be a better person every day.
NS: Being a group commander and spouse often has been said to come with a certain level of perks and expectations. What has been your experience in this role so far and what do you like or find challenging about it?
Col Baum: As far as perks and expectations are concerned, I don’t feel like I’m entitled to much of anything. I’m just a regular person trying my best to support and cheerlead for the people in the 91 MW and 91 MXG. My short time in maintenance is the best job I’ve had in the AF. I’m amazed with how resilient our technicians and NCOs are despite all the challenges that weather, equipment, and a really old weapon system throw at them on a regular basis. I guess the biggest perk is the AF took a chance on me and allowed me to lead such an amazing group of AF personnel. I can’t think of a better way to end my career… and I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be considered.
Mrs. Baum: What I have loved most about living here is meeting spouses, their families and hearing their stories and all about them. I never realized until I got here how hard maintainers work to keep everything up and running. I never realized how many hours they work either (sometimes they work up to 16 hours in one shift). They are amazing!
The entirety of the interview was relaxed and both Col and Mrs. Baum smiled often and were very light-hearted. Col Baum shared one of his most memorable times in the MXG so far was the big spring snowmelt dig that happens every year in the missile fields. While Col Baum explained that this is a 91 MW-wide effort, he said it is usually the 91 MXG that leads the event. He said he was amazed with all his Airmen who happily went out to the missile fields and shoveled snow for hours. He explained that the snow needs to be moved away from the missiles before the snow melt causes flooding or damage. He joked about the time went out for a few hours to help and he was incredibly sore afterwards, whereas some of the Airmen worked for days and never complained!
Because of the Baum’s years of experience as military parents, they also elected some personal advice about the best ways to work with older kids transitioning between schools and how to help them get over the sadness. They mentioned it takes a lot of encouragement, communication and the realization that at the beginning of something new, it just is going to be hard no matter what. They encourage other parents of teenagers to work through new and tough times together until the kids can make friends and find their place.
As the interview closed a major takeaway that was evident is the sense that Col Baum trusts the Airmen in his group to work hard, get the job done and do it wholeheartedly. He admitted they have to work long hours and tough situations, but they always maintain the missiles no matter what weather or scenario and he is impressed with their work ethic. His awe for his Airmen stuck out as the most passionate part of his work here in the 91 MXG.