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New commander takes charge of 167th

January 12, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

In a ceremony marked with reflection and looking to challenges ahead, Col. Eric Vollmecke replaced Col. Jesse Thomas on Sunday as the new commander of the 167th Airlift Wing.

Early last month, officials with the local West Virginia Air National Guard unit announced that Vollmecke would be replacing Thomas, who is retiring for health reasons.

The change in command was formalized in a large ceremony Sunday afternoon that attracted about 900 members of the 167th, family members of unit members and local government officials.

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Vollmecke, Thomas and other military officials spoke to the crowd from a stage inside a large building at the base.

Thomas, who has served as commander since April 1999, praised various parts of the base during his farewell. He also recognized the support of his family, which he said was an integral part of his existence.

"Without their support, I wouldn't have been able to do this job," Thomas said.

Family support ended up being a focus of the ceremony.

When Vollmecke took the stage, roses were handed to Thomas' wife for all the sacrifices she has made to support her husband.

Vollmecke then had flowers handed to his wife in honor of the sacrifices she likely will have to make.

Speaking to the 167th Airlift Wing members, Vollmecke said he is honored to be working with the "battlefield-tested" group.

Other officials, including Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett, adjutant general of West Virginia, also praised the 167th members.

"You take care of them and I guarantee they will take care of you," Tackett told Vollmecke.

The 167th Airlift Wing, based at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport south of Martinsburg, provides support to military operations abroad and has sent hundreds to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of war and anti-terrorism efforts.

During some of the missions in Afghanistan, many of the flights were conducted at night, and lights were turned off inside the airplanes when they landed at their destinations, base officials said. To land, pilots used night- vision goggles.

The 167th Airlift Wing was the first wing in the Air Force to be qualified to use the night-vision goggles, Tackett said Sunday.

"Mountaineer Pride worldwide. That's your motto. Your motto is everyone else's envy," said Tackett, who oversees all Army and Air Guard operations in the state.

While 167th Airlift Wing members have plenty to be proud of, there is much work ahead, including expected additional deployments and preparing the base for a new cargo plane referred to as the C-5, said Brig. Gen. Wayne Lloyd.

Vollmecke, a 16-year veteran of the 167th, brings a wealth of experience to the post, including a stint at the Pentagon, extensive worldwide airlift experience with the 167th and various leadership positions within the unit.

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