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AY 24 Faculty and Fellows

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Center for Strategy and Technology Faculty

Mr. Benjamin D. Phillips — Managing Director

Ben "Dabs" Phillips has over 25 years with the active duty and reserves as a fighter pilot and acquisition specialist. His private sector roles include as chief financial officer, strategy consultant, founder and board member across a variety of industries. Senior staff positions include program management and security oversight roles within the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, as lab director in the Air Force Research Laboratory, and as chief of current operations at a combatant command. He holds a BS in Physics, an MA in Political Science, and an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management. Interests include ancient languages, old truck maintenance, and the subtle art of growing entrepreneurs, among others.


Colonel Mark Jacobsen — Deputy Director

Colonel Mark Jacobsen is the Deputy Director of Blue Horizons at the Air Force’s Center for Strategy and Technology, an educational program that prepares battle-ready entrepreneurs for the U.S. Air Force. He thrives at the intersection of scholarship and operational practice, and has leveraged his deep experience in both technology and social science to found multiple organizations aimed at developing novel airpower and cyberpower concepts. These include a nonprofit that sought to break sieges and fight starvation in Syria, as well as a cyber exploitation team at the Defense Innovation Unit aimed at stopping the use of drones for terrorism. He previously served as an Assistant Professor at Air War College and the Air Force’s School of Advanced Air & Space Studies. Colonel Jacobsen served as an Olmsted scholar in Amman, Jordan and earned his PhD in Political Science at Stanford University.


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. Anthony Franks — Professor

Tony Franks has over 23 years with the active duty and reserves as a bomber/tactical airlift pilot and cyberspace operations officer. He currently serves as a reserve vice wing commander. He has served in multiple major and combatant commands, deploying 7 times worldwide. He holds a BS in Business, MS in Theology, and a MA in Strategic Studies. He has been teaching at Air University for 5 years. Prior to that, he was an airline pilot for 7 years. Interests include mentorship, keeping up with his 3 children, and camping.


Mr. John Carter — Adjunct Professor

Mr. Carter works collaboratively in the execution of AU's education, research and doctrine missions. Mr. Carter retired as a Colonel, spending the majority of his career in flight operations with 3400 hours in the O-2, A-10, and F-16. He commanded an A-10 squadron, was Commandant of the Air Force Weapons School, Vice Commander of a Fighter Wing 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 SAASS, and spent a year as a National Security Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


Major Nathaniel Opie — Chief of Finance and Outreach

Maj Nathaniel Opie has an acquisitions engineer background in both Air and Space Force Organizations. He began his career at Wright Patterson AFB in the T-6 and F-22 System Program Office, and Materials and Manufacturing directorate. From there he was assigned to LA AFB where he worked in the Launch Enterprise Directorate managing launch contracts for SpaceX National Security Space Launch missions. He has earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in Material Science. His spark for innovation started with an assignment to Seattle, Washington at a small company, funded by Jeff Bezos, who builds reusable rockets, Blue Origin LLC. Maj Opie's entrepreneurial career started while at LA AFB working nights and weekends with a former co-worker where they gained support from the Air Force Chief Scientist Office, AFWERX, and 9 AF Wings, to TDY 15 military Engineers, Scientist, and Coders to wing innovation units (Spark Cells) to solve base level problems.


Major Christopher Weston — Chief Technology Officer

Major Christopher S. Weston is a Senior Combat Systems Officer with over 4,500 hours, including 2,600 combat hours, in the U-28A and C-130E/H/J as a loadmaster. He holds a BS in Liberal Studies from Excelsior College. Previous assignment was as Chief of Manned ISR Tactics for 492nd Special Operations Training Group at Hurlburt Field. He pursues a diverse range of hobbies including CNC machining, 3d printing, beekeeping, heavy equipment operation, and technology research.


Center for Strategy and Technology Fellows

Lt Col Jordan Atkins

Lieutenant Colonel Jordan L. Atkins is a space operations staff officer in the Air National Guard and has served in various operations, acquisitions, and staff assignments in Air Combat Command, the National Reconnaissance Office, Air Force Space Command, and the National Guard Bureau. Prior to his selection as a Blue Horizons Fellow, Lt Col Atkins was the Chief, Strategic Plans and Concepts, in the National Guard Bureau Space Operations Directorate, where he reviewed and developed decision papers for future mission requirements and new mission proposals. He was integrated into the Space Force Operational Requirements Division, in which he assisted in the completion of multiple capability development documents covering electromagnetic warfare, orbital warfare, and missile warning. Lieutenant Colonel Atkins earned his commission through the Air Force ROTC program at the Pennsylvania State University in 2003. He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering, MS in Electrical Engineering, and an MS in Engineering Administration. Lt Col Atkins is married with three sons. In his free time, he enjoys woodworking, writing speeches for Toastmasters, going camping, and rolling at the local jiu-jitsu academy.


Major William "Bobcat" Baker

Major William Baker is an F-16 operational test instructor pilot with recent specialization in airborne forward air control and suppression of enemy air defenses. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Weapons School with over 1,800 flying hours, including 350 combat hours in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria. Major Baker entered the Air Force in 2010 as a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, where he majored in aeronautical engineering. Outside of the Air Force, Major Baker is an amateur astronomer, a mediocre marathon runner, and a competitive ultimate player.


Major Stephen "BZ" Bintz

Maj Stephen Bintz is Special Tactics Officer and received his commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 2010. He initially served as a Developmental Engineer working on the design, development, and testing of numerous C2ISR platforms and the F-35 Lightning II with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in Industrial Engineering. In May 2014, he was selected and transitioned into the Special Tactics career field where he served in the roles of Flight Commander, Assistant Director of Operations and most recently Director of Operations for the 321st Special Tactics Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom focused on empowering a tactical air/ground integration force that enables global access, precision strike and personnel recovery operations for United States European Command and Special Operations Command Europe. He is married with two boys (2.5 y/o, 15 mos) and enjoys time with the family, being in the mountains, and being on the water.


Lt Col Peter "DD" Dyrud

Lt Col Peter Dyrud is a Combat Rescue Officer with qualifications to include flight evaluator, military freefall parachutist, combat diver, and senior aircrew. He previously commanded the 351 st Special Warfare Training Squadron, which produces all Pararescuemen and Combat Rescue Officers for the US Air Force, and two expeditionary rescue squadrons, commanding the rescue community’s first night water jump mission to support contingency operations. Lt Col Dyrud earned a BS in physics and math as a Distinguished Graduate of the US Air Force Academy, master’s degrees in public policy and statistics, and a PhD in public policy (international relations) from Harvard. His research has focused on the China-India relationship and deterring transnational kidnapping through rescue. He has served as a White House Intern in the Office of Presidential Speechwriting and a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In his off time, he enjoys music, hiking, and spending time with his family.


Major Eric "ZigZag" Kordus

Maj Eric “Zigzag” Kordus is a Senior Pilot with over 1,200 flight hours, including over 155 combat hours. He completed three assignments as an instructor pilot in the F-22A and graduated from the US Air Force Weapons School. Before his selection as a Blue Horizons Fellow, Maj Kordus served as the Operations Branch Chief, Next Generation Air Dominance System Management Office, responsible for developing Next Generation Air Dominance requirements. He was commissioned in 2012 from ROTC at the University of North Dakota and holds a Bachelor's degree in Aviation Management and a Master's degree in Military Operational Art and Science. Maj Kordus is married and enjoys hunting, boating, traveling, and reading.


Major Benjamin "CASTRO" Marshall

Maj Benjamin “CASTRO” Marshall is an acquisitions manager. He earned his Bachelors at the United States Air Force Academy in 2011 and a MBA from Oklahoma State University in 2015. Maj Marshall has procurement experience with multiple weapon systems including AC-130W, U-28, B-21, RQ-170, MQ-9, E-11A, and multiple others. Prior to being a Blue Horizons Fellow, he was a part of the Acquisitions Instructor Course as a cadre member. Maj Marshall has a saying, “when you hit 35 years old, you come to a fork in the road: you either pursue WW2 history or smoking meats. I chose the latter and general aviation.”


Lt Col Peter "Reefer" Mauro

Colonel Select Peter "Reefer" Mauro is an accomplished Air Force pilot with over 3000 flight hours. A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, he excelled as a T-6 Instructor Pilot before being competitively selected to fly the B-2 stealth bomber. As a Distinguished Graduate of the USAF Weapons School, he led combat planning and the tactical employment of the stealth bomber. Peter's expertise expanded to include Special Technical Operations and the nation’s nuclear weapons enterprises, going on to serve as a National Laboratory Technical Fellow at Sandia National Lab's Weapon Intern Program. Joining the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) aboard the E-4B Doomsday aircraft, he rose from Presidential Strike Advisor to the position of Operations Director. Additionally, he established the NAOC National Capital Region Liaison Officer role, providing direct support to the President and the Secretary of Defense. His critical contributions ensured the funding and acquisition of the Survivable Airborne Operations Center. Colonel Select Peter "Reefer" Mauro is a respected leader known for his significant role in National level Continuity of Government and Nuclear Command and Control programs.


Major Morgan Mitchell

Maj Morgan Mitchell is an Operations Research analyst with a unique background serving in three different career fields. She has an analytical mindset and a penchant for solving problems. Her eclectic background includes pilot training with over 150 hours in the T-6 and T-38, a Missile Officer, a B-52 EWO instructor, a Space Systems analyst, and a Personnel Policy analyst at the Pentagon. Prior to being selected as a Blue Horizons fellow, she was a Test Launch Analyst on the Minuteman III ICBM where she was selected as the FGO of the year at the 20th Air Force level. Maj Mitchell commissioned through Officer Training School in 2012 after earning a bachelors and masters degree in Astrophysics and Materials Science Engineering. She’s married to a Space Force Acquisitions officer and has two daughters, 12 and 3 yrs old. In her free time, she competes in air races and runs a non-profit to encourage girls to pursue careers in aviation and STEM.


Major Michael "Nike" Sayers

Maj Michael “Nike” Sayers is a Senior Pilot with over 1,000 flight hours. After graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in 2011, Maj Sayers attended pilot training at Laughlin AFB where he was a Distinguished Graduate. He has completed three assignments as an instructor in the F-22A. Most recently, Maj Sayers served as a Weapons School Instructor and the Chief of Integration for the USAF Weapons School. Maj Sayers has a passion for Air Dominance as well as focusing on the challenges facing America with respect to the pacing challenge of China. Maj Sayers is married with two children (ages 6 and 3), and cherishes his time with them as well as fixing cars, shooting, reading and fitness.


Lt Col Erica "E" Lopez

Lt Col Erica Lopez is a Flight Surgeon, Emergency Medicine and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Physician. She entered the Air Force in 2007 as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer and attended medical school through the Health Professions Scholarship Program. Lt Col Lopez has served as the Program Director of the Department of Defense’s EMS Fellowship, the Director of Operations for the Special Warfare Operational Medicine Squadron, and the Medical Director for the Modernized Pararescue Provider Program. She has deployed as a Tactical Critical Care, Critical Care Air Transport and Ground Surgical Team Lead. In 2021, Lt Col Lopez was appointed the EMS Consultant to the Surgeon General; the lead subject matter expert on prehospital medicine. Lt Col Lopez is married to a Tactical Air Control Party Officer with whom she shares three daughters.


Colonel Dustin "Whiz" Thomas

Col Dustin “Whiz” Thomas began his Air Force career after graduating from Kansas State University in 2002. His first assignment was as an engineer at the AF Research Lab. He then became a F-15 and F-16 flight test engineer at Tyndall AFB. His next engineering assignment was at Edwards AFB, operationally flight testing the Global Hawk and F-35 aircraft. His assignments have also included work at the Defense Intelligence Agency, AFJO, AFRL STO, 425 ABS in support of NATO, and most recently at SAF/AQL. He has also deployed to the Middle East for contingency operations. He has been married to his wife, Amy, for 22 years and they have three children–two adult daughters and a 9-year old son.


Major Rich "Bear" Williams

Maj Rich “Bear” Williams is a Senior Pilot and F-22 Weapons Instructor with over 1,000 flying hours, including combat in the Middle East. He has completed deployments to INDOPACOM and CENTCOM, and most recently served as Chief of 53d Wing Weapons and Tactics - responsible for tactical and technical integration during Operational Test for more than 24 platforms in 16 operating locations. While in this role, Maj Williams also functioned as Exercise Director for BLACK FLAG, facilitating and overseeing Tactics Development and Evaluation for over 40 systems across Joint and Coalition Armed Forces, as well as partner agencies. Maj Williams loves military and general aviation - and continues to operate the same (retired PRC military) plane his father taught him to fly in as a teenager. He is married to and kept alive by his wife, Stephanie, who also does everything to raise their two kids - 18 mo and 3 yrs.


Major Luke "Shoresy" Cepil

Maj Luke “Shoresy” Cepil is a Defensive Cyberspace Operator and Weapons Instructor with over 1000 on-net operations hours. Luke was commissioned through ROTC at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania with a dual degree in Computer Science and Computer Security. He started his Air force Career as a 17D Communications Officer at Ramstein AB where lead 265 Airman in his operations flight. He would then move to AMC staff supporting communications for all of AMCs gray skin fleet and quickly transitioned to an Integration Engineer position at the Air Force Integration Center where he enabled Tier 3 support for the AFNET. He then transitioned to a Group Executive Officer Job supporting the 375th Communications Group and would follow on to the 833d Cyberspace Operations Squadron at JBSA Lackland as an Operations officer for 82 National Cyber Protection Team. He would go on to fill many roles such as Chief of Training and Chief of Standards and Evaluations over the course of 3 and half years before his selection to Cyber Effects Operations Weapons School, Class 21B. He would then complete his Tier 1 assignment as a Weapons Officer and Offensive cyberspace Operator at the 91st Cyberspace Operations Squadron. He would soon return to the 833d Cyberspace Operations Squadron as the Director of Operations before his selection as Blue Horizons Fellow. Luke spends his time building and racing classic cars and motorcycles as well as competing in Powerlifting and Bodybuilding..