Meet the commander: Col. Frank Verdugo, 90th MSG

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Col. Frank Verdugo, 90th Mission Support Group commander, took command June 11, 2015. Before taking over the MSG, his career spanned decades and continents, and along the way, he always drew strength and wisdom from his upbringing.

Verdugo's story began in 1970 in Chula Vista, Calif., when he was born to Frank and Carmen Verdugo.

"I grew up in a large family - well large for nowadays - four sisters, all older, and my parents - a hardworking group of folks," Verdugo said.

The whole family worked in the parents' Mexican restaurant together, which is where he said he learned much of his work ethic. They were a very close family, and Frank and Carmen were very involved in their children's lives.

Verdugo learned a lot from his parents growing up, and he intends to use the lessons he learned from his parents as a commander, he said.

"Taking care of your people is like being a parent in a way," he said. "You give them direction. You give them feedback. You let them take chances."

He said his parents trusted him and his sisters and were very involved in all they did growing up. They kept communication lines open to be able to know when things were different.

"They knew when something bothered us," Verdugo said. "They knew when something was wrong."

Likewise, Verdugo tries to keep an open-door policy for both his two children and his Airmen.

"That's how I am with my kids and how I try to be as a commander," he said.

It was a long journey for Verdugo and his family before he had the opportunity to use the lessons his parents taught.

Verdugo worked in his parents' restaurant until he became a teenager and entered high school. Years later, as high school graduation loomed near, the question of what he would do with his life became more and more pressing, he said.

Verdugo's father served in the U.S. Air Force, separating before Verdugo was born, and his grandfather fought in World War II. Their service influenced Verdugo to consider attending the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Ultimately, he decided to further his education by becoming the first in his family to attend college after enrolling in the University of California - San Diego in 1988.

Verdugo's progress toward earning a degree was slow due to his employment at a 24-hour auto parts store to pay for school and a general lack of direction. He considered dropping out to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

He said his parents talked him out of it, recommending he finish college before making other plans.

Verdugo spent two years at UCSD before transferring to San Diego State University in 1990.

Shortly after, a new employee named Monica began work in the auto parts store, and Verdugo wasted no time asking out the woman who would later become his wife.

Despite the new flame in his personal life, Verdugo still felt the need for a change.

"I felt like a hamster in a wheel," he said. "I felt like I just wanted to get going."

After meeting with a friend who commissioned into the U.S. Navy and seeing the professional image he portrayed, Verdugo was inspired to join the university's Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1993.

Monica took the news well, he said. She was excited because he told her they would get married after he graduated, and ROTC required Verdugo to complete his bachelor's degree in business administration in two years.

"Once I got into ROTC, everything started moving along," he said. "I got really focused and my grades improved. The ball started rolling."

Verdugo said he loved the ROTC program and blazed through his last two years of school.

After graduating in 1995, he married Monica and commissioned into the Air Force as a second lieutenant in the comptroller career field, 65FX, financial management.

He said it gave both of them a sense of service to the country and a sense of excitement about a future with many open doors and a lot of uncertainty.

"You really don't know where you might go, what you might end up doing, but you're part of something bigger," he said.

Initially, Verdugo's role was a recruiter at SDSU, where he helped prospective Air Force officers take the right steps to commission and find scholarships.

Once that tour was over, the Verdugos were eager to see more of the world, but that didn't quite happen.

"I got stationed at [Los Angeles] Air Force Base," Verdugo laughed. "I signed up thinking we're going to travel, but I basically moved an hour and a half to two hours up the road from home."

Of course, his mother was excited about his proximity, he said. Since his family still lived in Chula Vista, Calif., the Verdugos would often visit home on weekends.

The Verdugos finally got their chance to spread their wings in 1999 when they changed duty stations to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, starting a string of new assignments including Italy, Texas, New Mexico and Washington, D.C.

During their travels, he and his wife gave birth to a daughter and a son.

Now that he commands the 90th MSG at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Verdugo's purview expands beyond the budgets and expenditures he had grown comfortable with throughout his career. The 90th MSG's squadrons include a host of career fields and missions, from fire prevention to caring for children.

"It's a little challenging," he said. "My career field expertise is not one particular field within the MSG."

However, his time as a comptroller brought him into working relationships with all of the squadrons that typically fall under the MSG.

"I understand their processes, especially from a money perspective," he said. "I've always been involved to the point where I understand what they're doing, but now I'm looking at it from a different perspective."

He said the unfamiliarity is challenging, but an exciting opportunity to learn more about how the Air Force operates.

"I really rely and trust squadron leadership and the folks in the squadron," he said. "I'm not going to be doing it for them. I'm not going to have some grand idea - it's going to be them. Sometimes if you know something really well, it's easy for you to get a little too involved."

Verdugo said after spending two weeks immersing himself into his new command, his trust in his Airmen increased.

"The squadron commanders and leadership teams took me to all their work centers, and I had a chance to meet with the folks, and they talked to me about what they do," he said. "I have been so impressed with the quality, the motivation and the performance of the folks that I'm lucky enough to work with in this group."

In particular, Verdugo praised the junior enlisted Airmen in his group for stepping up and filling roles usually filled by non-commissioned officers.

He described the shops under his command as very customer focused, and said his predecessor, Col. Travis Condon, left the group in good shape for him.

"My goal is to leave it better than I found it," he said. "When you find something really great, that's a tough job."

Verdugo may have just begun his tenure as 90th MSG commander, but he has been part of the Air Force family for 20 years and brings his fatherly experience to the Mighty Ninety family every day.