Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Jeff Long

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Jeff Long, a former member of the KU baseball and football teams, has lived a storied life, thus far, to say the least. The Director of Aviation Services for the University of Kansas has been all over the world, but regardless of the destination, he has always carried with him the love and support for his alma mater.

Long was born in Wichita, Kan., and became a standout baseball and football player for Wichita Southeast. He has always been a fervent-supporter of the Kansas Jayhawks. Long, one of the final recruits brought in by legendary baseball head coach, Floyd Temple, has never been one to hold athletes on a pedestal, but he remembers having tremendous respect for KU’s former multi-sport athlete, Bob Marshall.

“I played sports with his son in grade school,” Long said. “Bob was a four-sport athlete (baseball, basketball, football and track and field), joined the marines after college, was a pilot for over 30 years, became the Athletics Director at Fort Scott Community College and then became a state Senator. He is a great man and someone I have always looked up to.”

In fact, Marshall served as partial inspiration for Long to join the military after college. The other credit goes to the 1986 classic movie, “Top Gun.” Long found himself missing the thrill of competition and the leadership opportunities associated with being a member of a team, skills he saw waning while attending law school.

“I was at a Christmas party while I was in law school and was talking with a friend from junior high and KU,” Long said. “I asked him, ‘What are you doing now, Dwight?’ He responded, ‘I am trying to get into the Navy to fly jets.”

Long was intrigued by the thought of flying so much that he began to research every branch of military. It did not take him long to figure out the Air Force was where he wanted to be. He signed papers with an Air Force recruiter to attend Officer Training School and then pilot training.

Following successful completion of the Air Force’s Flight Screening Program, Officer Training School and pilot training, Long found himself right back where he came from.

“One of the perks of joining the military was the thought of being able to see the world,” Long said. “I ended up right back at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita flying the B-1 Bomber.”

He couldn’t help but laugh after being sent back to his hometown.

After a few years of pulling nuclear alert duty, accomplishing unit training to become combat mission-ready, and doing fly-bys for a variety of air-shows, including the River Festival in Wichita, the International Air-Show in Santiago, Chile in 1992, and a prestigious ceremony at Langley Air Force base in Virginia called “Air Tattoo,” Long began to rapidly excel in his career field.

Several years of flying the B-1 Bomber gave him an advantage when the Air Force introduced the B-2 Bomber to its array of aircraft. Of the 300 applicants who initially applied to the program, 40 officers were selected for interviews and 20 made the final cut. Long was among those 20 candidates selected to standup the nation’s only B-2 Stealth Bomber Wing.

“I was picked up in the initial cadre of B-2 pilots, “Long said. “It was really an honor to be a part of the initial group. We built the program from scratch.”

According to Long, there was a lot of attention on the B-2 program in its infancy. He helped create the processes, policies and manuals associated with the aircraft and its operational mission. He spent such a great amount of time training that in 1996, Long and his mission commander, Steve Multon, set a world-record (at the time) for the longest flight-simulation at 44-consecutive hours. In 1998, Long flew combat missions in the B-2 in Operation Allied Force, receiving Air Medals for his skilled flying and precision bombing.

In 2000, Long was promoted to the rank of Major and assigned a position in the Pentagon in an office known as “CHECKMATE.” The program was a strategic and operational think-tank in a top-secret area, located on one of the lower levels of the pentagon.

“CHECKMATE” was a compilation of 20-25 experts from all weapons systems,” Long said. “Members held top-secret clearances, special program-access, and focused primarily on building strategic and operational plans. It was the kind of stuff movies are made about.”

After his first year in Washington, D.C., the Sept. 11 terrorist attack shocked the world. Along with the strike on the World Trade Center, another airplane crashed into the Pentagon that destroyed an entire section of the military complex.

Long was not physically harmed during the attack, but his services were immediately called into action.

“Within minutes of the second plane hitting the tower, we immediately created and established a 24/7 schedule so we could handle the requests for our expertise that would come in the initial days,” Long said. “George W. Bush had just been elected president and his staff had not yet released their national security strategy. Within a few days, we drafted documents using the speeches previously given by President Bush.”

Long and the other members of CHECKMATE were recognized for their efforts in establishing national military doctrine. He was assigned additional duty as a liaison to Joint Special Operations Command and authored, under the guidance of Air Force Chief of Staff, John Jumper, the concept of operations for what now known as Global Strike Command. Long was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel two years ahead of schedule, an accomplishment afforded to less than one percent of all Air Force officers.

After being assigned to several other prominent positions, including Director of Operations for the 393rd Bomb Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Chief of Wing Safety of the 509th Bomb Wing and Chief of the Command and Control Division of the Nuclear and Conventional Command and Control Center, Long retired in 2008.

“The timing was right for my family,” Long said. “I was on the verge of being promoted to the rank of Colonel which involved a lot more moving around and I wanted to be there for my wife, Allison, and my kids, Katherine and Jackson, who were entering college and high school, and were both exceptional athletes. It was the right decision for us, and has proven itself over and over again.

After enjoying a year of retirement, Long became the Director of Safety for Executive AirShare, a fractional-ownership company located in downtown Kansas City. He seemed perfectly content with his new position until he came across a new job posting.

The new position was to become the Director of Aviation services for the University of Kansas. The job description entailed being “responsible and accountable for daily operations of aviation department in support of University’s business travel, while leading the management of safety, operations, maintenance, and scheduling programs and policies.” Long was more than qualified and quickly accepted the position upon being offered.

The Cessna Citation Bravo that Long oversees carries high-profile faculty including, the Chancellor, the Provost, the Athletic Director, the Endowment President and several head coaches for recruiting purposes. Regardless of who he, or one of his pilots, is flying, Long is thrilled to be in his current situation.

When asked what lessons he learned from his time as a student-athlete at KU, Long said that sports were instrumental in teaching him hard work and persistence. He attributes the high-caliber men of his fraternity with challenging him to grow as a leader. Long served as rush chairman, alumni chairman and president as a member of Beta Theta Pi.

Jeff married his college sweetheart, and together, they served our nation for 20 years. They often talked of returning to Lawrence to live out their later years rooting on the Jayhawks.

“This is a dream scenario for me,” Long said. “My wife and I wanted to move back to Lawrence when we retired. We feel fortunate to have returned to Jayhawk nation earlier than expected. Allison is the Accounting Operations Manager at the Endowment Association.”

Along with his current job, Long is an advisor to the Beta Theta Pi fraternity that he was once the president of. His son served as president of the Beta house during the fall of 2013. He and his wife have season tickets to multiple Jayhawk sports, and enjoy supporting current student-athletes. Long is also serving as Vice President of the K Club Board of Directors and is slated to serve as President from June 2014 until June 2016.

“It is truly an honor to be asked to serve organizations that I was once involved in,” Long said. “I receive great personal joy supporting our current student-athletes, and helping our former student-athletes reconnect while preserving the history and tradition of Kansas Athletics.”

Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.