Graduates of NDSU reunite 16 years later as 70th ISRW squadron commanders

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md --

People often say “the Air Force is a small place.” This statement holds true, especially for three particular intelligence squadron commanders from the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.

Before Lt. Cols. Dan Newton, Robert Vidoloff and Scott Paul became commanders of the 22nd, 29th and 381st Intelligence Squadrons, respectively, all three of these Airmen where Bison. Yes, Bison from North Dakota State University.

Their story began in 1996, when Paul and Vidoloff were freshmen and Newton was a sophomore in the Air Force ROTC program at NDSU.

“The ROTC program at NDSU was small enough that we got to know each other fairly quickly,” Paul said.

“Dan [Newton] was actually a year ahead of us, so he often mentored us on our drill and ceremonies, our uniforms and provided a great leadership example,” Vidoloff said. “He was a rock for us; kept us out of trouble and gave us perspective on life experiences.”

In college, Paul and Vidoloff quickly hit it off and have been like brothers ever since.

“We had many of the same political sciences classes together throughout the years,” Paul said. “We have shared several significant life events, such as our 21st birthday, in each other’s wedding, commissioning and multiple promotions.”

According to the three commanders, the community, teamwork and the small size of NDSU made it a very enjoyable stay during their ROTC period.

Paul said NDSU had an amazing community and the town of Fargo, North Dakota, was full of good people who wanted to help them achieve their goals.

“The size [of the university] was big enough to meet people from all cultures, yet small enough to not get lost in the shuffle,” Newton said. “The ROTC program was highly regarded for its impressive commissioning rates.”

Vidoloff said he chose not to attend his 20-year high school reunion, but would return in a heartbeat for a reunion at NDSU.

“The comradery and sense of teamwork was unlike anything I had ever experienced up to that point in my life,” the 29th IS commander said.  

During their years in Fargo, the three comrades were quick to provide a good example to others through their teamwork. During the “Red River Flood of 1997,” which was one of the most severe floods along the Red River of the North in Minnesota, North Dakota and Southern Manitoba, the three volunteered to help.

“We were quick to volunteer and spend many long hours filling sand bags and building temporary dikes around homes to protect them,” Newton said.

During their time at NDSU, Newton, Paul and three other cadets rented a house across the street from campus which they called “ROTC Ranch.” Many late nights were spent playing video games and enjoying each other’s friendship.

Although they often competed against each other during their time in ROTC, they were each other’s biggest fans.

“Scott’s (Paul’s) decision to go into intelligence was my primary reason I picked this career field,” Vidoloff said. “As we researched our future careers, all the things we found out about this career field motivated me to try it out.”

In 2000, the three graduated and went their separate ways.  Vidoloff’s first duty assignment, in September 2001, was as a squadron intelligence officer with the 34th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, North Dakota, with the B-1 Bombers. But, the Air Force soon brought two of them together again. In May 2002, Newton’s (first lieutenant at the time) first assignment was with the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., which was the sister squadron of Vidoloff’s 34th BS.

Paul’s first duty station was at the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. in August 2003.

“People say the Air Force is a small place and it’s true,” said Vidoloff.

After his first assignment, Vidoloff was accepted for U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.  He then challenged Paul to attend Weapons School.

Paul accepted the challenge and was able to graduate in 2006.

“Our career paths have overlapped several times, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without his friendship and support,” Paul said about Vidoloff.

In 2009, both Vidoloff and Paul went back to become instructors at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. A couple of assignments later, they were stationed at the Pentagon together.

In 2016, the three re-united as squadron commanders under the 70th ISR Wing.

“Considering the fact that the Air Force is very selective about its squadron commanders, I think it is exceptional to have three squadron commanders with very different career paths in the same wing from the same ROTC detachment, especially when that detachment is a relatively small ROTC program,” said Col. Thomas Hensley, 70th ISR Wing commander. “I think it clearly reflects the quality of the ROTC program at North Dakota State University.”

As the Air Force's "Cryptologic Wing," the 70th ISRW serves as a key enabler of cryptologic operations in support of policy makers and warfighters across the globe. The Wing conducts worldwide, real-time signals intelligence and information assurance missions for ongoing air, space and cyberspace operations. The Wing, one of the largest wings in the Air Force, has five groups at 34 geographic locations and includes approximately 6,300 Airmen.

Vidoloff took command of the 29th IS in February, and Newton took command of the 22nd IS in July. Paul took command of the 381st IS in June.

Now, with several months in as commanders in the 70th, they all have similar responses to the best parts about their job – the Airmen.

“The opportunity to directly impact the lives of so many Airmen is the best part,” said Newton. “Our Airmen do amazing work for our nation. We owe it to them to provide a good working environment, sound leadership and ensure they have opportunities for growth.”

“I love being able to have a positive impact on the lives or our Airmen and their families,” the 381st IS commander, Paul, said. “Simple things, like making a phone call on behalf of a wronged Airman, all the way to the big things, like surprising a Below-the-Zone winner with a stripe or being there for a spouse in the emergency room – that’s the best part about being a commander.”

The commanders’ time at NDSU paved their road to active duty Air Force and helped shape their leadership.

“It definitely helped shape who I am as a person and as a squadron commander,” Paul said. “We had the right formula of having a tremendous instructing cadre and a very active cadet corps. The cadet corps was very active in the community and on campus, and it created the right environment for life-long friendships.”

Newton remembered the NDSU ROTC Cadres as their first exposure to “the real Air Force.”

“They did a great job teaching us Air Force history and aspects of leadership,” Newton said. “Being a very small detachment, we had plenty of opportunity to fill leadership positions.”

Newton also recalled the opportunities to visit nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, several time to fly on KC-135 refueling missions and  the Air National Guard base in Fargo to utilize the F-16 simulators.

“When I reflect on the last 16 years since graduating from NDSU, I’m humbled by what I’ve been able to do in the service of our great country,” said Paul. “My experience at NDSU laid the solid foundation for success. My friends, family, peers and mentors have helped guide me to where I am today. I’m humbled to be a squadron commander in the Air Force and in the 70th ISR Wing, and I’m truly blessed to be able to share that experience with two friends and fellow Bison!”