Director of operations by day, NFL cheerleader by night

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Iinuma
  • 70th ISRW Public Affairs
In an unprecedented tale of juggling military responsibilities and personal pursuits, many face numerous challenges when attempting to manage their time and energy. U.S. Air Force Maj. Nathan Curl stands out as a unique individual, adeptly navigating two distinct worlds as the 29th Intelligence Squadron director of operations and a National Football League cheerleader.
Amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Curl found himself seeking social connections through diverse activities beyond his military obligations. He enjoys cheerleading and eventually stumbled upon an opportunity to join the Baltimore Ravens cheer team.
“I enjoy the challenge of pressing my body to do new things, and it's doubly-challenging when I have a partner—another human who entrusts their life to me whenever she is flipping every which way while 30 feet in the air, and then racing back down to earth,” said Curl. “It's a fantastic challenge and the only limit is your imagination and how hard you are willing to work.”
Managing the demands of military service alongside NFL cheer require meticulous planning and open communication. Continuous dialogue, as Curl emphasized, is critical to ensure both his military and cheer team leaders are informed of his commitments and limitations.
“Number one key is communication,” said Curl. “I have to make sure my NFL coach and team captains are tracking my schedule and limitations. My commanders have all been gracious in allowing me to manage my tasks as necessary and the flexibility to use all 24 hours [in the day], which is a courtesy I make a point of passing down to any Airmen in my squadron.”
The journey hasn't been without challenges. Curl faces the physical toll of cheerleading, balancing injuries with maintaining strict military fitness standards. Furthermore, team cohesion posed a different challenge as he navigated the terrain of professional cheer culture.
“I'm 35 and while I've stayed in relatively alright shape, some of the explosive power required for throwing a 115-pound human body into twists and tucks, and then the elasticity required for rapid deceleration when that human body falls 20 feet and snaps out of her last twist before she cradles into your arms---it's a lot on the ligaments and joints,” said Curl.
In both cheering and military leadership, he draws on his experience to encourage Airmen and team members to embrace challenges, view failures as learning opportunities, and foster a balanced and communicative environment.
“The idea of ‘just do it; you can push through it’ was key to balancing my duties in both additional activities and being a squadron director of operations,” said Curl. “This has allowed me to work on and hone my interpersonal skills and leadership-by-influence rather than leadership with rank.”
Whether on the cheerleading floor or in the military, he hopes to aid in building teamwork, recognizing the importance of team cohesion for success.
“His humble leadership style, characterized by thoughtful questions and an active approach to learning, quickly made him a standout leader in the 500-person squadron, now serving as my director of operations,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Yvette Kushmerick, 29th IS commander.
Curl applies lessons from some of the best coaches to leading in the 29 IS, promoting each individual to exceed in every decision they make.
“Maj. Curl is a strong advocate of promoting the leader-leader model in the squadron,” said Kushmerick. “More specifically, he promotes those who have struggled in a specific way, whether that be PT, technical skills, or language, and overcame to be the leader of that arena. I love it!
“He builds teams by raising the caliber of every individual. Maj Curl recently said, ‘In generic sports terms: oftentimes the best coaches aren't the best players, and oftentimes the best players make the worst coaches.’”
Curl promotes and supports those aspiring to balance a professional career with military service in pursuing their goals. Acknowledging that sacrifices are inevitable, he highlights the importance of decisiveness and driving to one's true passions, even in the face of uncertainty.
“If it's something you really want then there's no time better than the present,” said Curl. “Making a decision and moving forward when you have enough information is absolutely better than waiting until you have all the information. Know what you want and go after it.”
In Curl's extraordinary journey, the intersection of military precision and the vivacity of NFL cheerleading becomes a testament to resilience, adaptability, and the pursuit of passion.