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Air commander named for 167th

January 06, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A lifelong Berkeley County resident and nearly 35-year member of the 167th Airlift Wing has been named as the unit's air commander, making it the first time since the 1970s that two commanders will oversee the base, officials said.

Col. William R. Gain, 53, who currently serves as the unit's vice commander, said one of his main priorities as air commander will be to focus on the unit's full- and part-time Guard members.

C-130 planes, worth $34 million each, are worthless if people cannot fly and maintain them, said Gain, of Martinsburg.

"I think our people are important. I think we really need to focus on them," he said. "This is one of the best, if not the best, (unit) in the Air National Guard."

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Several Guard units around the country have a dual-commander system in place, but the 167th has not had such a system since the early 1970s, said Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver.

Col. Eric Vollmecke, a 16-year veteran of the 167th, previously was named as the officer who will replace current Wing Commander Col. Jesse Thomas, who is retiring for health reasons. Vollmecke lives in Virginia.

Vollmecke essentially will oversee the base's operations on weekends, including on drill weekends, while Gain will supervise and lead the unit during the week. When Vollmecke is on the base, Gain will be under his command.

Unlike Vollmecke, who is a traditional part-time Guardsman with a full-time civilian job, Gain works on the base full time.

Gain's interest in the military began when, at 13 years old, he joined the Civil Air Patrol. He enlisted with the 167th as an aeromedical evacuation technician when he was 19.

Gain, who holds a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees, started working full time with the unit in 1990. February will mark his 35th year of military duty.

He volunteered previously to go to Haiti during its uprising and flew relief supplies to Bosnia. He said he requested to go to Iraq during the first conflict there, but the unit's tasking orders did not include sending senior officers.

The 167th has around 1,250 members during drill weekends and around 240 during the week. Ten to 15 members currently are deployed overseas, Gain said.

Along with focusing on fellow Guard members, Gain said he also will work on the base's conversion to handle C-5 planes, which are expected to arrive in 2007.

Gain said that being a member of the Guard has allowed him to travel around the world and advance within its ranks. Among other positions, he has served as the unit's squadron operations officer, chief of safety, on-scene commander and navigation instructor/evaluator.

"The Guard has played a major part in my life," he said. "Those of us who have done it will never forget."

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