A 21-year veteran of the United States Air Force (USAF), Colonel (Ret) Nicole Malachowski wanted to fly military jets from the moment she saw them at her first air show when she was 5 years old. She achieved that goal, and more. A leader, a combat veteran, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, an instructor, a White House fellow, and an inductee into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, her USAF career exceeded her wildest dreams.
In her speeches, Col. Malachowski inspires audiences with lessons from her experience that correlate with program objectives. She brings her experience to the stage and holds audiences spellbound with an easygoing authenticity of someone who's achieved greatness. She's been a member and leader of exceptional teams. She has faced overwhelming challenges and adversity and has come out on top. When Col. Malachowski's distinguished military career was cut short by a neurological tick-borne illness that, at its worst, left her unable to walk safely or speak intelligibly, she overcame those challenges, as well.
While other high school students were practicing for their driver's licenses, Col. Malachowski was accumulating flight time-she was 16 years old when she took her first solo flight. During high school, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and participated in Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Her professional story began when she earned her commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996. Following graduation, she attended undergraduate pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base (AFB), in Mississippi, and began her career as a pilot. Competitively selected to fly combat aircraft, she was among the first group of women to fly modern fighter aircraft. She served in combat as an F-15E flight commander, evaluator, instructor pilot, and flight lead. Over her 21-year career, Col. Malachowski achieved the rating of command pilot with over 2300 flight hours in 6 different Air Force aircraft. She was also selected to fly as Thunderbird #3 with the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the first woman to fly on any Department of Defense military jet demonstration team. Col. Malachowski has served as a mission ready fighter pilot in 3 operational F-15E fighter squadrons and has flown over 188 combat hours, including her proudest moment as a fighter pilot: leading the first fighter formation to provide security for Iraq's historic democratic elections in 2005.
On the ground, Col. Malachowski was a White House fellow, class of 2008-2009, where she served on the Presidential Transition Support Team while assigned to the US General Services Administration. She has served 2 high-level staff assignments at the Pentagon, 1 in the Office of the Secretary of Defense) and 1 with the Secretary of the Air Force Office of International Affairs. She also served as the executive director of the White House's national "Joining Forces" initiative, where she directly advised former first lady Michelle Obama and former second lady Dr. Jill Biden on all topics relating to service members, veterans, and military families to include employment, education, mental health, veterans' homelessness, and more.
Col. Malachowski's operational F-15E assignments include 2 tours of duty at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, as well as 1 operational assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, Goldsboro, North Carolina. She has also served alongside the United States Army 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Red Cloud, Republic of Korea, as an air liaison officer. During her second assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, she had the honor of commanding the 333rd Fighter Squadron, leading an elite cadre of F-15E instructors in the training of the next generation of combat aviators. Further, she was responsible for resources totaling over $1.1 billion and the execution of a $119 million annual flying hour program.
She earned a master's degree national security policy, with honors, from American Military University and a second master's degree in national security and strategic studies, with highest distinction, from the US Naval War College. While there, she earned the Admiral Stephen B. Luce Award as the class honor graduate, the first Air Force officer in the history of the Naval War College to do so. Col. Malachowski has been recognized with several honors for her consistent contributions to community service. As she continues to recover from her neurological tick-borne illness, Col. Malachowski embraces any opportunity to educate others about her medical journey and gains energy from educating others about this growing epidemic.
Col. Malachowski was born in Santa Maria, California, and graduated high school in Las Vegas, Nevada. She and her husband, Paul, have twin children: a son, Garrick, and a daughter, Norah. Paul is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former F-15E evaluator weapons systems officer.