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Lt. Gen. Atkins is a native of Portland, Ore. He earned his bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Portland and holds two master's degrees, one in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and another in national security strategy from the National War College. 

A command pilot with more than 4,000 hours in fighter aircraft, Atkins has served in a number of key command and staff positions, including commander, 20th Fighter Wing, Shaw AFB, S.C.; commander, 35th Fighter Wing, Misawa, Japan; vice commander, 7th Air Force and U.S. Air Force Korea; director of operations, U.S. Pacific Command; and special assistant to the supreme allied commander Europe during the air war over Serbia. During his career, he flew as a demonstration pilot for both the European A-10 Demonstration Team and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. 

At the time of his retirement from the Air Force, Atkins served as commander, Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Command; commander, 11th Air Force, Pacific Air Forces; and commander, Alaskan North American Defense Region, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

He and his wife, Laura, were the 2004 recipients of the General and Mrs. Jerome F. O'Malley Award, which recognizes the wing commander and spouse whose contributions to the nation, the Air Force, and the local community best exemplify the highest ideals and positive leadership of a military couple.

Before becoming the ninth president of MOAA, Atkins served as president of Chronicle Media, a print and digital media company based in Augusta, Ga., that serves the southeastern U.S.