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Col. Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.)

First Female Thunderbird Pilot, Combat Veteran, White House Fellow & Indomitable Spirit

A 21-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Col. Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.) wanted to fly military jets from the moment she saw them at her first air show at five years old. She achieved that goal – and then some. A leader, a combat veteran, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, an instructor, a White House Fellow, and an inductee into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, Nicole’s Air Force career exceeded her wildest dreams. 

Photos

Washington, D.C., USA

Presentations

Harnessing Headwinds of Change
In flying, headwinds slow you down. At their worst, they cause you to change your plans and impact the effectiveness of weapons in combat. Headwinds demand that pilots be resilient and resourceful, literally on the fly. “Headwinds are the perfect metaphor for the change impacting organizations and individuals today,” says 21-year Air Force veteran Nicole Malachowski.

Pushing the Envelope: Being The Best When It Counts
What does it take to be the best? The individuals and teams who achieve at the highest levels have one thing in common: they push the envelope and go to the edge of boundaries. Pushing the envelope is an aviation term for taking an aircraft to the maximum limits of its abilities. In the business world, pushing the envelope means knowing yourself – certainly knowing your limits – all while using every bit of your ability to maximize your performance, be your best and be consistent. As a combat-tested fighter pilot and a member of the military’s most elite group of aviators (1 in 2,000 USAF pilots become Thunderbird pilots), Nicole Malachowski inspires audiences with lessons learned from a distinguished 21-year career. That means using inevitable failures to launch to the next level… preparing for turbulence, because change is unrelenting and it is hard, but you must anticipate it… trusting in teammates’ skill and precision while developing your own… and being mindful of the over-control that leads to performance malfunctions and mutes achievement. Nicole’s presentation provides and an unforgettable and practical roadmap for individuals and organizations looking to make the most of their talents and efforts.

The Power Of Challenging Assumptions
The best organizations and leaders create cultures that engage and harness the diverse ideas, talents, and abilities of every person; one where challenging assumptions and the status quo drives extraordinary success. Nicole Malachowski knows about high-performance cultures and challenging assumptions. As a member of the elite United States Air Force Thunderbirds flying demonstration team, the first woman to do so, Nicole was part of a team that demanded flawless execution under extreme circumstances because lives literally depended on it.

In The Service Of Others
Nicole Malachowski has lived a life of service to others. Her commitment to making a difference was the foundation of a distinguished 21-year Air Force career and it continues to drive her work as an advocate on health care and veterans’ issues. First as a White House Fellow in the General Services Administration and later as the executive director of Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, Nicole rallied around service members, veterans, and their families and supported them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.

  • Magic! You are easily in my “top-5 of all-time”! In addition to be an excellent public speaker in manner, tone and approach, your presentation was stunningly inspiring, moving and motivational. And it wasn’t just a feel good session. Every person in the room left with business and life-tools to use and share. But most of all, each and every one of us left the room with a more grateful heart. For me, this is the home run of home runs as we attempt to bring some light to the lives of our employees and clients.

    - President, First Allied and Cetera Advisors
  • Your message of perseverance, determination, and overcoming roadblocks was incredibly moving and inspiring. I have to say that never before have I had our group rise and give a standing ovation to a guest speaker and then be asked to return to the stage for ongoing applause!

    - Executive Vice President, HR, PM Hotel Group
  • An outstanding job. In fact, I cannot recall another speaker where there was such high universal praise. She is inspiring, authentic, energizing, and a true American hero. More than a week later, there is still abuzz in the organization and I have zero doubt her remarks will leave a lasting impression on our team to embrace headwinds and navigate change more successfully.

    - President and CEO of Strayer University, Inc.
  • You touched my team with your brilliant and meaningful storytelling and have inspired them with your leadership and very practical tips on how to manage headwinds. You captivated their hearts and minds—and it was exactly the kind of closing I wanted to end our week of planning sessions.

    - SVP, CMO | Marketing and Sales, Best Western Hotels & Resorts
  • Her unique ability to connect with each and every member of the crowd was impressive. Each individual believed she was talking directly to them and all attendees left walking a little taller. If you are looking for someone to motivate and inspire your audience you cannot do better than Nicole Malachowski. And I’ll bet you might walk a little taller, too.

    - Deputy Administrator, U.S. General Services Administration

Summary Profile

In her speeches, Nicole inspires audiences with lessons from her experience that can be tailored to meet program objectives.  Nicole brings her experience to the stage and holds audiences spellbound with an easygoing authenticity of someone who’s achieved greatness. She’s been a member and leader of exceptional teams. She has faced overwhelming challenges and adversity and has come out on top. When Nicole’s distinguished military career was cut short by a neurological tick-borne illness that, at its worst, left her unable to walk safely or speak intelligibly, she overcame those challenges, as well. 

While other high school students were practicing for their driver’s licenses, Nicole was accumulating flight time – she was sixteen years old when she took her first solo flight. While in high school, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and participated in Air Force Junior ROTC. Nicole’s professional story began when she earned her commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996. Following graduation, she attended Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Columbus AFB, MS and began her career as a pilot. Competitively selected to fly combat aircraft, she was among the first group of women to fly modern fighter aircraft. She served in combat as an F-15E Flight Commander, Evaluator, Instructor Pilot and Flight Lead. Over her 21-year career, Nicole achieved the rating of Command Pilot with over 2,300 flight hours in six different Air Force aircraft. She was also selected to fly as Thunderbird #3 with the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron – the first woman to fly on any Department of Defense military jet demonstration team. Colonel Malachowski has served as a mission ready fighter pilot in three operational F-15E fighter squadrons and has flown over 188 combat hours, including her proudest moment as a fighter pilot: leading the first fighter formation to provide security for Iraq’s historic democratic elections in 2005.

On the ground, Nicole was a White House Fellow, class of 2008-2009, where she served on the Presidential Transition Support Team (PTST) while assigned to the U.S. General Services Administration. She has served two high-level staff assignments at the Pentagon – one in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD P&R) as well as the Secretary of the Air Force Office of International Affairs (SAF/IA). She also served as the Executive Director of the White House’s national ‘Joining Forces’ initiative where she directly advised former First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden on all topics relating to service members, veterans, and military families to include employment, education, mental health, veterans’ homelessness and more.

Nicole’s operational F-15E assignments include two tours of duty at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom as well as one operational assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. She has also served alongside the United States Army 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Red Cloud, Republic of Korea, as an Air Liaison Officer. During her second assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC, she had the honor of commanding the 333rd Fighter Squadron, leading an elite cadre of F-15E Instructors in the training of the next generation of combat aviators. Further, she was responsible for resources totaling over $1.1B and the execution of a $119M annual flying hour program.

Nicole earned a Master of Arts, with honors, in National Security Policy from American Military University and a second Master of Arts, with highest distinction, in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. While there, she earned the Admiral Stephen B. Luce Award as the class honor graduate, the first Air Force officer in the history of the Naval War College to do so. Nicole has been recognized with several honors for her consistent contributions to community service. As Nicole continues to recover from her neurological tick-borne illness, she embraces any opportunity to educate others about her medical journey and gains energy from educating others about this growing epidemic. She is on the Board of Directors at the LivLyme Foundation and is a Patient Advisory Board Member of The Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness.

Colonel Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.) was born in Santa Maria, CA and graduated high school in Las Vegas, NV. She and her husband Paul have twin children; son Garrick and daughter Norah. Paul is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and former F-15E Evaluator Weapons Systems Officer.