First woman Thunderbird pilot, combat veteran, fighter squadron commander, White House Fellow and adviser Nicole Malachowski to speak at the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speakers Series Oct. 16

The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speakers Series, hosted by The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Michigan, welcomes Nicole Malachowski on Wednesday, October 16.

A leader, a combat veteran, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, a White House Fellow, and an inductee into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, Col. Nicole Malachowski’s (USAF, Ret.) distinguished 21-year Air Force career exceeded her wildest dreams. But the dream came to an end when a devastating tick-borne illness left her unable to speak or walk for
ten months. An indomitable spirit, Malachowski fought back against overwhelming odds and prevailed.

While other high school students were practicing for their driver’s license, Malachowski was accumulating flight time. She was sixteen years old when she took her first solo flight. She earned her commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996. Following graduation, she attended Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, 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. As a career pilot, she served in combat as an F-15E Flight Commander, Evaluator, Instructor Pilot, and Flight Lead.

Over her 21-year career, Malachowski 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, Malachowski 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.

Malachowski’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, North Carolina. 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, 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.

Malachowski 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.

Malachowski has been recognized with several honors for her consistent contributions to community

As Malachowski 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.

Drawing on stories from her career and personal life, Malachowski will inspire the Economic Club audience to rethink everyday challenges during her presentation, “Harnessing Headwinds of Change.”

A pre-presentation buffet dinner will be served in newly renovated Grand Upton Hall. Dinner begins at 5:30 pm followed by a 25 – 30-minute panel discussion hosted by Lest We Forget at 6:30 pm featuring local female veterans with military service over the past few decades. These veterans will discuss their unique perspectives on serving in the armed forces.

Following the dinner program, attendees will take a short walk through The Mendel Center to their reserved seats in the Mainstage for the presentation. Volunteers and wheelchairs will be available to assist those with mobility issues.

Dinner tickets ($35) and reserved presentation seats ($50 – $80) are on sale now at, by calling 269-927-8700, option 1, or by visiting The Mendel Center Box Office in person. The box office, located in the Grand Upton Hall Lobby, is open weekdays from 10 am to
6 pm. Dinner tickets and presentation tickets are sold separately.

This Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speakers Series event is sponsored by Silver Beach Pizza.