New Commander Takes Charge at U.Va. Air Force ROTC

Col. Steve Hiss is closing out his U.S. Air Force career where he started it: in an ROTC unit.

Hiss is the new commander of the University of Virginia's Air Force ROTC detachment, a capstone on his career, from which he will retire at the end of this tour in three years.

Hiss, 47, a Simsbury, Conn., native, entered the Air Force through an ROTC program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., from which he graduated in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.

"It was a fantastic experience," he said. "My life revolved around the ROTC program. The friends I have from college are from ROTC and we still get together every few years and go back for a football game."

Hiss was a member of the Arnold Air Society, an organization of future Air Force officers, and was the national commander of the organization in 1985-86.

"It was a fantastic experience for me as a cadet," he said. "I got to meet people such as Jimmy Doolittle, Jimmy Stewart and Chuck Yeager. It was a tremendous leadership opportunity and personal growth experience."

Gen. Doolittle was a pioneer in U.S. air power, Stewart was an actor who flew bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and Yeager was an Air Force combat and test pilot.

Hiss also earned master's degrees in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan, and in strategic studies from the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He is a graduate of the Squadron Officer School at Maxwell and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Hiss was most recently the vice commander of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., where he was second in command of the largest B-1 bomber combat wing in the Air Force, with 28 aircraft and more than 4,300 military and civilian members. Hiss commanded the 436th Training Squadron at the Dyess AFB in Texas and served as a deputy division chief and division chief on the air staff.

He has been deployed numerous times in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hiss is a command pilot with more than 3,700 flight hours in the B-1 and T-38 supersonic jet trainer. He has also served as aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Joint Forces Command and the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic.

"With 26 years experience, I have served at all levels of the military," he said. "I have been exposed to decision-making and military strategy at the highest levels, and I have been a B-1 pilot for 21 years."

He is looking forward to teaching military science to the fourth-year cadets. In all, he leads approximately 125 cadets, including those at Liberty University and James Madison University, whose AFROTC programs he also commands.

"I enjoy mentoring and look forward to influencing the next generation of officers one-on-one," he said.

Hiss, who has already settled into the area with his family, is impressed with U.Va.'s reputation.

"U.Va. is a great school and I love this part of the country," he said. "I thought this would be a great way to transition from the Air Force."

– by Matt Kelly