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New commander named for 167th

December 30, 1998

New 167th CommanderBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing will have a new leader next spring, officials announced on Tuesday.

With base commander Col. V. Wayne Lloyd, 54, closing in on mandatory retirement this April, officials said Col. Jesse A. Thomas will take over Lloyd's command on April 11, 1999.

Thomas, 49, joined the 167th as an instructor pilot in August 1978 and has been vice commander on the base for the last three years. He will be the fifth commander of the 167th since the base moved from Charleston to Martinsburg in November 1955.

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Major Gen. Allen E. Tackett, the adjutant general of West Virginia, flew in from Charleston to make Tuesday's announcement. He said Thomas will spend the next four months working with Lloyd to help ensure a smooth transition.

Thomas will take over a unit that Tackett said is widely regarded as one the best in the Air National Guard. Thomas said the base, under Lloyd's leadership, has significantly increased its combat capabilities.

The 167th was awarded an outstanding rating for combat readiness this year for its response to a simulated biological and chemical attack in North Carolina. Officials said the rating is a rare award for an Air National Guard unit.

The Martinsburg base, which has almost 1,200 members, has been used for missions to airlift cargo and personnel around the world. It also operates a medical evacuation squadron.

In recent months, the 167th has flown hurricane relief missions to Central America and has been placed on standby to assist military operations in the Middle East.

Improving the combat readiness of the base was one of his goals when he took over as base commander in March 1989, Lloyd said. During his tenure in Martinsburg, Lloyd faced several issues, including missions to Desert Storm and Bosnia and threats of aircraft reductions.

Lloyd also had to deal with the 1992 crash of a C-130 cargo plane in Berkeley Springs that killed six base members.

Lloyd, who said he didn't "feel that old" despite his impending mandatory retirement, said his post-command plans include possible work in the private sector and going out on his sailboat in Annapolis, Md.

Tackett said Lloyd was one of the finest commanders in the Air Force and said his departure will be a loss to both the 167th and the surrounding community.

Scheduled to reach mandatory retirement in June 2004, Thomas said he plans to use the next 5 1/2 years continuing to bring the base into a high state of readiness.

Thomas holds an aerospace engineering degree from the University of Maryland and is a command pilot with 9,500 flying hours. He has served as an instructor pilot on active duty with the United States Air Force and was an engineering supervisor with Hercules Aerospace in Cumberland.

He is a 1995 graduate of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., and has received medals for meritorious service and aerial achievement.

Thomas and his wife, Sandra, live in Greencastle, Pa. and have three children. Thomas' 26-year-old son, Drew, is a pilot with the 167th and will soon be a captain.

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