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AY 22 Faculty and Fellows

  • Published

Center for Strategy and Technology Faculty

Mr. Benjamin D. Phillips — Managing Director
Ben "Dabs" Phillips served 11 years on active duty as an air traffic controller, fighter pilot and flight instructor, and continues service in the Air Force Reserve. He has held roles in the private sector as a chief financial officer, strategy consultant and board member across a variety of industries. His senior government roles include select assignments with the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force in program management and oversight roles, with the Air Force Research Laboratory as technology portfolio manager and lab director, and chief of current operations at a combatant command. He holds a B.S. in Physics, an MA in Political Science, and an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management. 

Colonel Jason Wright — Deputy Director
Col Jason Wright has spent most of his career as a special operations pilot. Prior assignments include CJTF/OIR Task Force Iraq Chief of Staff, Commander 67th Special Operations Squadron RAF Mildenhall, 352 SOW Chief of Safety, and EUCOM Senate Liaison Officer and Air Force Legislative Fellow for Senator Baucus of MT. He is a command pilot with more than 4200 hours in the MC-130. Col Wright earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Central Florida, Masters degrees in Aeronautical Science from (Embry-Riddle), Masters Certificate in Legislative Affairs from (Georgetown, GAI), and Strategic Studies from (U.S. Air War College). 

Dr. Drew Wagstaff — Chief of Academics
Dr. William "Drew" Wagstaff (PhD, Emory University) is a Mandarin-speaking data scientist who creates and executes the Blue Horizons curriculum. When he is not working on academic articles or prototyping, he can be found enjoying time with his more-talented wife and trail running. 

Dr. Eric Keels — Professor
Dr. Eric Keels is a professor in the Blue Horizons program and conducts policy-relevant research on issues related to global security. His research focuses on civil war dynamics, human rights, international conflict management, post-war processes, and rebel group organizations/ideology. Outside of research, he's crazy about BBQ 

Mr. John Carter— Adjunct Professor
As Air University's A3, Mr. Carter works collaboratively with commanders, directors, and deans in the execution of AU's education, research and doctrine missions. A retired USAF Colonel, Mr. Carter spent the majority of his career in operations, accumulating 3400 hours flying the O-2, A-10, F-16. He served as Commander of an A-10 squadron, Commandant of the Air Force Weapons School, Vice Commander of a Fighter Wing in Korea and Vice Commandant of the Air War College. Mr. Carter holds a Bachelor's degree from Duke University, Masters Degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and School for Advanced Air and Space Studies, and spent a year as a National Security Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Major Michael Ristom — Instructor
Major Michael Ristom has spent half of his career in Air Combat Command and the other half in Air Force Special Operations Command. As a senior pilot, he has flown both manned and unmanned reconnaissance platforms as well as MV & CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft. His most recent assignments include executive officer to the AFSOC A3, executive officer to the 1 SOW Wing Commander, and Director of the 1 SOW Innovation Cell. Maj Ristom currently serves as a Blue Horizons instructor and Operations Officer. He received his Associates Degree in Aerospace Technology from Brevard Community College, a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach), and a Master Degree in Intelligence Studies from American Military University. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his amazing wife, his crazy dogs, and tries to keep up with his ever growing list of hobbies. His most notable hobbies include gardening, woodworking, shooting, reading, and exploring new hobbies.

TSgt Jerald Scott — NCOIC
TSgt Scott serves as the Blue Horizons NCOIC and CSAT's Information Technology Administrator. His career path has been, in a word, varied. Previously he was the NCOIC of Boundary Protection Operations at the 26th Network Operations Squadron. Before that, he worked in the Cargo Movement section of the 42nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. Prior to that, he maintained the B-1 offensive avionics systems for the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters, programming and automotive maintenance.


AY 22 Blue Horizons Fellows

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Blair is a Senior Pilot with more than 2,500 hours, including 1,500 combat hours, in the MQ-9, MQ-1, and AC-130U. He studied at the USAF Academy (BS, 2002), Harvard Kennedy School (MPP, 2004), and Georgetown University (PhD, 2014). Additionally, he published works on remote warfare, AI/ML, strategy, leadership, moral injury, human trafficking, the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron, and the US Coast Guard’s Rum War at Sea. He was the commander of the 65th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field and served as the director of the AFSOC Cochran Group, where he provided strategic analysis and pursued initiatives for the command. He speaks Russian and enjoys reading, biking, and home improvement.

Lieutenant Colonel Gregory M. Blom is a Master Air Battle Manager with over 1,800 flight hours, including over 600 combat hours, in the E-3B/C and E-8C. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Florida State University, Master’s Degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and United States Air Force School for Advanced Air and Space Studies. He is also a graduate of United States Air Force Weapons School and United States Army Command and General Staff College. He has experience on the Headquarters Air Force A-5/8 staff and commanded at the squadron level. Prior to becoming a Blue Horizons Fellow, he was the Deputy Group Commander for the 461 Operations Group at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

Major Loren M. Faire is a Senior Pilot with over 2250 hours, including over 700 combat and combat support hours, in the C-146A, T-1, and T-6A. He commissioned in 2009 through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Louisiana State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. Prior to his selection as a Blue Horizons Fellow, Major Faire was the Operations Officer for the USAF Center for Strategy and Technology, and a Blue Horizons Instructor. He has zero talent for most things, but pursues a diverse range of hobbies from making furniture, using aircraft parts, to kayaking.

Major James "Pharaoh" Hesson is a Senior Pilot with over 2,900 hours in the F-15E, T-38C, C-17A, and T-34C, and accumulated nearly 700 combat hours. Before Blue Horizons, he served as the Weapons Assistant Director of Operations and the Director of Staff of the 494th Fighter Squadron, enabling conventional and nuclear strike capabilities for the United States in EUCOM and NATO. Most recently, in June of 2021, Pharaoh returned from the 494th's deployment, serving as the Detachment Director of Operations for a six-jet Agile Combat Employment in support of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has a Bachelor's in Political Science, a Master's in Business Administration, and received his commission from ROTC after graduating from the University of Tennessee in 2008.

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick “Fish” Hook is a Command Pilot with over 3,500 hours in the T-38A, B-52H, B-2A, E-11A and E-4B, including instructor and evaluator experience in multiple airframes, and over 1,000 combat hours. He directed operations for a one-of-a-kind expeditionary E-11A squadron, which was activated in Southwest Asia to meet a Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON). He also commanded the Air Force’s only E-4B squadron. He was responsible to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for assuring National Command Authorities on a 24/7/365 basis, and enabling a highly survivable National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) with which to command and control nuclear forces. Additionally, his acquisitions experience includes managing B-2 requirements at the MAJCOM level. He most recently served as Deputy Director of B-21 Integration and System Management at the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

Major Kyle McCracken is a career Office of Special Investigations Special Agent with numerous assignments conducting and supervising felony-level criminal, fraud, and counterintelligence investigations and operations in the physical and cyber domains. He led at the detachment and squadron levels, and served in combat operations in Iraq. Prior to being a Blue Horizons Fellow, he was the Chief of Offensive Cyber Operations, Cyberspace Operations and Warfighter Communications Directorate, Deputy Chief of Staff, Headquarters Air Force Operations, Pentagon, Washington DC. There he led strategy and concept development for Air Force offensive cyber capabilities, developed and sustained sensitive and disruptive technologies, and integrated counterintelligence accesses into Title 10 cyber operations.

Major Nicole “Duchess” Pearl is a Senior Pilot with over 2,400 hours in the MC-130P and MC-130J, with over 480 combat hours in Afghanistan, Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Air Force Academy and a Master’s degree in International Security Studies from the University of Arizona. Major Pearl is also a graduate of the US Air Force Weapons School, most recently serving as an instructor. She is on a never-ending quest to find new and interesting ways to use her hands and bend her mind; her current obsessions include coffee roasting and Formula 1 racing.

Major Bryan “Rage^N” Ralston is a Flight Test Engineer specializing in experimentation and prototyping. He commissioned in 2008 through ROTC at the University of Missouri-Rolla, earning a Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering. He also holds a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering from Missouri S&T and a Master’s in Experimental Flight Test Engineering from the United States Air Force Test Pilot School. He has held a variety of positions across the acquisition lifecycle including duties at the Air Force Research Lab, F-16 System Program Office, National Air and Space Intelligence Center, HH-60W Program Office, and finally as the Assistant Director of Operations of the 586th Flight Test Squadron at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Prior to joining Blue Horizons, he was an Air University Fellow instructing at Squadron Officer School. Major Ralston has a passion for aviation and holds an FAA private pilot’s license with an Instrument Rating. Including his military flying time, he has accumulated over 920 hours in 62 different type of aircraft.

Major Danielle “Fuze” Ryan is a Space Operator with a secondary specialty as a General Engineer. She is a 2010 graduate of the US Air Force Academy. Major Ryan earned her Master’s degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Colorado and graduated from the US Air Force Weapons School. Prior to her selection as a Blue Horizons Fellow, she was the Joint Fires Element Branch Chief at Joint Task Force - Space Defense.

Major Cory A. Staudinger is an Aircraft Maintenance Officer and is the first Logistician ever selected for the Blue Horizons Program. He is a 2009 graduate of Officer Training School. He earned dual Bachelor’s degrees in Professional Aeronautics and Technical Management as well as a Master’s in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Prior to Blue Horizons, he was the Operations Officer for the Presidential Logistics Squadron at Joint Base Andrews MD. He was responsible for all maintenance, supply, planning, and program management for aircraft serving as Air Force One. Major Staudinger’s experience includes a multitude of airframes to include the F-15 C/D/E, F-16, A-10A/C, AC-130H/U/W, MQ-1/9, C-32, & VC-25A/B. He deployed in support of multiple combat operations and served in five MAJCOMs.

Lieutenant Colonel Phoenix L. Torrijos is an Intelligence Officer with a secondary specialty as a Foreign Area Officer. She is an Olmsted Scholar and earned her MBA from Peking University, Beijing, PRC. Most recently, she led 354 Airmen and Guardians as a squadron commander. Previous assignments include Air Liaison Officer to Hong Kong and Macau, Director of Operations supporting NSA-Hawaii, Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Daily Intelligence Briefer, and Chief of Targets in the Korean Theater of Operations. Phoenix commissioned with a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese Studies from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and spent a semester abroad at Taiwan’s Political University in Mucha, Taipei.

Major Jason “J.U.” Utulo is a Senior Combat Systems Officer. He has over 1,300 hours as a Rivet Joint Navigator. He graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. Additionally, he earned a Master’s degree in Project Management from Trident University. Throughout his Air Force career he acquired a background in operational, tests and evaluations, and ISR operations. Prior to Blue Horizons Fellowship, he was an Evaluator and an Assistant Director of Operations at the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale AFB, California. He draws innovative inspiration from the works of well-known musical artists such as Jason Derulo, Usher, and Foo Fighters.