From Army Reserve helicopter maintainer to Air Force medical group commander

By Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt | Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs | July 30, 2020

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —

“I enlisted in the Army Reserve after college because I wanted to serve; however, I was not sold on the military as a career at that point. The Army offered me the opportunity to work on helicopters part-time and that was an easy sell,” said Colonel Charles “Scott” Hughes.

Nearly 22 years later, Colonel Hughes is now the commander of the 87th Medical Group at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst after taking command June 25, 2020.

Hughes was no stranger to the military life as he grew up in an Air Force family.

“Growing up in the Air Force is pretty good, overall,” he said. “I met lots of friends, but of course moving is always challenging. The neat thing I learned along the way is that people everywhere are largely the same, regardless of what we look like, how we dress, or whether we say ‘you guys’ or ‘y’all.’ There are always commonalities that we can bond around.”

Additionally, the Virginia-native grew up in a non-commissioned officer family, which played a role in his early development.

“It no doubt shaped me into the leader I am today,” he added. “NCOs take care of their people and NCOs dig in and get the job done, whatever it takes. I do my best to follow that example.”

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Hampden-Sydney College in 1998, Hughes entered the uniformed service as a medium helicopter maintainer for the U.S. Army Reserve.

“I enjoy fixing everything, and CH-47s are way more interesting to repair than dishwashers,” said Hughes.

A few years later, serving as a medium helicopter maintainer, the Air Force presented Hughes with the opportunity to lead healthcare organizations and offered him a direct commission into the active duty as a Medical Service Corps officer in November 2001. 

“It seemed like an awesome challenge,” he said. “It’s a very diverse career field that includes: finance, human resources, logistics, health benefits, patient administration, information technology, emergency preparedness, facilities management and many more.”

Back in 2002 when Hughes was the Chief of the Clinical Engineering Element at the 99th Medical Group on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, he didn’t have squadron or group commander plans on his radar.

“My only goals when I entered were to meaningfully contribute and to be challenged at the top of my ability,” said Hughes. “I became interested in command after working for a few really good squadron commanders.”

Interestingly, in 2018, 16 years after joining the Air Force, Hughes had the chance to command the same squadron he was first assigned to [99th Medical Support Squadron].

One of Hughes’ proudest moments came during his deployment to Bagram, Afghanistan in 2017.

“Commanding the (455th Expeditionary) medical operations squadron at Craig Joint Theater Hospital in Bagram is the highlight of my career,” said Hughes. “It is a very active trauma hospital and my team saved nearly every life. I will never forget the heroes we served who fought and bled on the front lines. They deserve the best, and I was proud to give them my best.”

Unlike prior commanders, Hughes takes command of the 87th MDG during unprecedented times.

“On the upside, COVID-19 has slowed down the world a little,” according to Hughes.

“It’s given many parents more time to mentor and teach their kids,” he said. “On the downside, this pandemic has made me concerned for the people I care about who could be taken from us by this disease with very little warning. I see first-hand that social distancing and face masks work, and I ask everyone to stay vigilant and take these simple measures,” said Hughes.

Hughes has challenging tasks at hand during his early time as a group commander.

“The first big challenge is ensuring our medics can safely take care of the community as well as themselves,” he said. “Our medics are engaged with COVID-19 cases every day. We must take care of our caretakers.”

Additionally, Hughes believes the second biggest challenge is ramping up test supplies and capacity enough to test everyone who wants to be tested.

“Right now, COVID-19 testing remains focused on those who are symptomatic, known close contacts, and testing required for mission readiness,” he added.

During his time here, Hughes hopes he and his team can provide the medical support needed, deliver it in the way the patients want to receive it, and to have fun while doing it.

“Thank you to the Joint Base MDL community for the warm welcome,” Hughes said. “My family and I are excited to be here. I am honored to lead the 87th Medical Group and we will work hard collectively to earn your trust every day.”