Commander That Fired First Female USAF Demo Team Leader Made This Crass Video 15 Years Ago (Updated)

On February 12, 2019, news that the first woman to lead an Air Force demonstration team was fired after just two weeks in the position sent shockwaves through the aviation community and made headlines in the mainstream press. We still don’t know what the cause was behind the firing, but it has come to our attention that the commander who did the deed made a very low-brow video with his squadronmates while deployed to Kunsan Air Base in Korea during the mid-2000s. 

Colonel Derek “Maestro” O’Malley is the commander for the 20th Fighter Wing. The unit is based at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He is also the base commander. His official bio, which you can read in full here, states his responsibilities as such:

“He is responsible for the mission readiness of the wing’s aircraft, 17 wing staff agencies, stewardship of Shaw, and the health and welfare of 6,576 active duty Airmen and civilians and more than 8,000 family members. Further, he supervises the support of the 31,000 local military retirees and 29 geographically separated units across nine states.”

Colonel Derek “Maestro” O’Malley, USAF

O’Malley, a highly accomplished fighter pilot, also oversees the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team that calls the base home, the same unit that Kotnik was relieved from. Here is the Colonel’s letter announcing her dismissal:

I removed Capt. Kotnik from her position as the commander of the Viper Demo team yesterday, because I lost confidence in her ability to lead the team.

I know that loss of confidence is a common response from the Air Force, whenever someone is removed from a command position, and I think it’s important to understand why we take this approach.

We have thousands of Airmen across our Air Force serving our country, and not one of them is perfect. As good people, like Capt. Kotnik make mistakes, I want them to have the opportunity to learn from them without being under public scrutiny, and to continue to be a part of this great service. They’ll be better for the experience, and in turn, we’ll be better as an Air Force.

In these types of situations, I never forget that we’re dealing with real human beings, that I care deeply about, and that we are charged to take care of. This will be a difficult time for Capt. Kotnik, but she’s surrounded by wingmen that will help her every step of the way.

It was exciting to have the first female demo team pilot here at Shaw, but I’m also just as excited about the many other females that are serving with great distinction across our Air Force. I’m proud to serve with them, and I’m inspired by them. Even as I speak, another female pilot from the 20th Fighter Wing is flying combat missions in the Middle East.

Maj. Waters, last season’s Viper Demo pilot has resumed command, so the team is in great hands, and the show will go on. We’re looking forward to another amazing season with this team.

Col. Derek O’Malley

Commander, 20th Fighter Wing

Maybe O’Mally’s approach to announcing what has to have been heartbreaking news for Kotnik, regardless of the circumstances, stems from the fact that he helped mastermind and starred in the video below while serving as the Chief Weapons Instructor for the 35th Fighter Squadron, a unit based in South Korea. The video includes song, dance, repeated references to genitalia, a big penis and testicles puppet, and is based around discomfort of the male genitalia while flying on missions and a particular brand of talcum powder that is a solution to those issues. It’s stupid and maybe funny in an immature way, and I mean real immature. 

It’s worth noting that the female pilot in the video is not Zoe Kotnik. This was made years before she served in the same squadron.

From what we can tell, even in the mid-2000s, this video caused quite a stir, although we are unaware at this time of the exact disciplinary actions taken by higher-ups in the chain of command. Since then, the video been referenced in multiple military and aviation forums around the net.  

Maybe some will think the video is humorous and just a product of servicemen and women blowing off steam while stationed half a world away from home. Others will find it unbecoming of the positions and responsibilities of some of the people most prominently featured in it. The culture within the USAF has changed to some degree since its inception, but it stands as an incredibly stark reminder that really talented and valuable people can make really dumb decisions. 

In Colonel O’Malley’s case, this little sojourn into blue humor movie making didn’t seem to hold him back much. He went on to partake in the most prestigious opportunities the USAF has to offer its pilots. This is an official snapshot of his career:


1996 Bachelor of Arts degree, Communications, Brigham Young University, Utah

2002 Squadron Officer School, Maxwell AFB, Ala.

2004 Distinguished Graduate, U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Nellis AFB, Nev.

2005 Master’s degree in business administration, Trident University, distance learning program

2005 Air Command and Staff College, by correspondence

2009 Distinguished Graduate, Master of Science degree, Special Operations & Low Intensity Conflicts, Naval Postgraduate School

2013 Air War College, by correspondence

2015 Distinguished Graduate, Master of Science degree, Strategic Studies, U.S. Army War College, Pa.


1. October 1996 – May 1997, Executive Officer, 71st Operations Group, Vance AFB, Okla.

2. May 1997 – September 1998, student, Undergraduate Pilot Training, Vance AFB, Okla.

3. September 1998 – August 1999, student, F-16 Initial Qualification Training, 308th Fighter Squadron, Luke AFB, Ariz.

4. August 1999 – July 2001, Assistant Chief of Weapons and Tactics, 389th FS, Mt Home AFB, Idaho

5. July 2001 – January 2003, F-16 Flight Examiner, Flight Commander, 22d FS Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany

6. January 2003 – July 2004, student, U.S. Air Force Weapons Instructor Course, 16th Weapons Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev.

7. July 2004 – August 2005, Chief of Weapons and Tactics, 35th FS, Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea

8. August 2005 – June 2008, F-16 Instructor, Assistant Director of Operations, U.S. Air Force Weapons School, 16th Weapons Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev.

9. June 2008 – October 2009, student, Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, Calif.

10. October 2009 – July 2011, Deputy Operations Group Commander, 33rd Operations Group, Eglin AFB, Fla.

11. July 2011 – June 2012 Director of Operations, 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev.

12. June 2012 – June 2014, Commander, 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev.

13. June 2014 – June 2015, student, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pa.

14. June 2015 – June 2017, Senior Military Advisor for Air Warfare Systems, Office of the Secretary of Defense

15. June 2017 – June 2018, Vice Commander, 388th Fighter Wing, Hill AFB, Utah

16. June 2018 – present, Commander, Shaw AFB, S.C.


June 2015 – June 2017, Senior Military Advisor for Air Warfare Systems, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Director of Operational Test & Evaluation, Pentagon, Va.


Rating: command pilot Flight hours: more than 2,100, including 146 combat hours Aircraft flown: T-3, T-37, T-38, F-15E, F/A-18F, F-35A, and F-16


Defense Superior Service Medal

Distinguished Flying Cross with valor device

Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters

Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster

Aerial Achievement Medal

Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster

Air Force Combat Action Medal

Iraq Campaign Medal


Second Lieutenant August 1996

First Lieutenant August 1998

Captain August 2000

Major August 2006

Lieutenant Colonel December 2010

Colonel May 2016

Making mistakes is a part of life. Let’s just hope Captain Kotnik is being treated with the same understanding as her commanding officer apparently was some 15 years ago.

UPDATE: 2/14/18—

Shortly after publishing this piece, Colonel Derek ‘Maestro’ O’Malley gave us an exclusive and unprecedented in-depth interview in which we discuss the Gold Bon video, making mistakes, achieving redemption, and becoming a better leader because of it, as well as what goes into making a disciplinary decision for an Airman that has fallen into trouble. You can and should read that entire special feature linked here.

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