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104th Fighter Wing holds Distinguished Awards Ceremony and “Mother of All Change of Command Ceremonies”

The 104th Fighter Wing holds awards ceremony and mother of all change of command ceremony, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Westfield, Massachusetts. During the Wing's ceremony four major awards were presented, and six changes of commands were performed. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech Sgt. Melanie Casineau)

The 104th Fighter Wing holds awards ceremony and mother of all change of command ceremony, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Westfield, Massachusetts. During the Wing's ceremony four major awards were presented, and six changes of commands were performed. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech Sgt. Melanie Casineau)

Col. Edward J. Gunning Jr., receives the Legion of Merit for the successful stand up of the Northeast aerospace alert mission, Chief Master Sgt. Robert Roy, Air Control Alert Superintendent, accepts 2015 Continental United States North American Aerospace Defense Command Region / 1st Air Force Air Control Alert Unit of the Year Award for the Wing, Sgt. Trevor Tompkins, receives 2015 Air Forces North Air Control Alert Maintainer of the Year, and Staff Sgt. Shane Coakley, receives Massachusetts Air National Guard Non-Commissioned officer of 2016 (Left to Right) during the 104th Fighter Wing Awards Ceremony. Coakley deployed to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom Sentinel. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Tech Sgt. Melanie Casineau)

Col. Edward J. Gunning Jr., receives the Legion of Merit for the successful stand up of the Northeast aerospace alert mission, Chief Master Sgt. Robert Roy, Air Control Alert Superintendent, accepts 2015 Continental United States North American Aerospace Defense Command Region / 1st Air Force Air Control Alert Unit of the Year Award for the Wing, Sgt. Trevor Tompkins, receives 2015 Air Forces North Air Control Alert Maintainer of the Year, and Staff Sgt. Shane Coakley, receives Massachusetts Air National Guard Non-Commissioned officer of 2016 (Left to Right) during the 104th Fighter Wing Awards Ceremony. Coakley deployed to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom Sentinel. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Tech Sgt. Melanie Casineau)

Barnes Air National Guard Base -- A celebration took place on the flight line of Barnes Air National Guard Base for the men and women of the 104th Fighter Wing as distinguished awards were presented and the ceremony rolled into the "mother of all change of command ceremonies."
Maj. Gen. L. Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard was on-hand for the awards ceremony and the six changes of command and assumptions of command for the 104th FW.

"We have our hearts and souls in this fighter wing," said Rice. "One of the best Air National Guard wings that we have across the country. This is what I use to set my standard. When I stand up and say things in Washington about having my connections to the field I'm referring to Barnes and what you do here."

The Wing's Air Control Alert unit was recognized as the best in the nation for 2015. The unit's superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Robert Roy, accepted the award.
"It is a true Wing mission," said Roy. "There are a lot of people who contribute every day. A lot of people have said 'terrorists have one chance to get it right' and we have to get it right all the time, so we truly take that to our hearts."

"Pilots and maintainers are prime players who are basically here 24/7 and can be called to respond to any air threats protecting a quarter of the northeast."

When asked how do you win an award like this against other units who are truly incredible Roy said "It comes down to people and their ability to do the right things all the time even when no one is looking especially in a mission that never turns off. We can be called up at O' dark thirty, wake up and be expected to be on mission."

"It is these folk's contributions today. Two simultaneously alert missions. One here and one deployed. We support the President of the United States as well. Combined efforts we have a whole wing that has a piece. We have communications folks that bring up radio comms so we can stay in communications to security forces. The assets need to be protected. Also logistics support providing refuelers for our aircraft." 

Col. James A. Keefe, the 104th Fighter Wing Commander kicked off the ceremony with a welcome home to the deployers. "Obviously our big deployment was our aviation package to United States European Command and NATO. But only a part of the story in terms of deployments. Individual deployments we actually had over five hundred people deploy somewhere last year whether it was a training exercise, real world, or domestic operation."

"We covered supporting every area of responsibility. We were in CENTCOM, SOUTHCOM, NORTHCOM, PACOM, AFRICOM, Red Flag, Silver Flag, EUCOM, deployment field trainings, republican national convention Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) support, deployed at home station Noble Eagle, state partnerships medical support, this is a small sampling of what we did."

The 104th Fighter Wing currently has members supporting PACOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM, all supporting title ten mission for active duty.

"All of this was done with volunteers. It was not a mobilization it was volunteers, said Keefe. "Members of the 104th FW continue to be the best value for the national security of the country. We've been making a global impact on national security."

The 104th Fighter Wing Medical Group recently returned home from providing medical care to the locals in Kenya as part of the state partnership program.

"I really think that is one of the most important national security things we do as a nation is supporting non-combat support," said Keefe. 

Keefe shared the story the 104th Medical Group doctors had told him "Young African kids were coming up to them and crying. You can imagine the power of a medical person extracting a tooth from someone who has been in pain for two years.  Powerful stuff and that's the type of impact we are having."

"I mention all of this because here at Barnes we are so busy and get involved in day to day stuff we kind of forget big picture but I want to thank everyone for what they have done. We are no kidding a strategic force that brings great implications on what's going on in the world," said Keefe.

The Wing also had a significant amount of change of commands which led to Col. Keefe calling it the 'mother of all change of commands' leading up to the ceremony. 

"It is a big deal it comes with a lot of responsibilities," said Keefe. "They are charged with ensuring their personnel are trained, equipped and ready to go to war. I talked today how the 104th has been busy the past twelve months.

"We are making a difference for the nation. A lot of our members and several of our commanders are part time and they actually have other jobs outside of the wing." 
"The new commanders have proven they have the temperament, drive, and leadership skills to lead what I believe is the most important level of the Air Force: inside of a Fighter Wing," said Keefe.

The Air Force North Air Control Alert Maintainer of the Year was presented to Staff Sgt. Trevor Tompkins during the ceremony as the best alert maintainer throughout the Air Force.

"I like to tell people I am like a crew chief on a NASCAR team or something like that," said Tompkins. "I'm the guy that gets the car rolling. Also like a fireman because you have to respond quickly you never know what we are going to be dealing with on a daily basis."

"I am enjoying the award and want to set other people up for success on this base to receive this award as well. It is important because we are the safety net controlling the airspace for the northeast."

Other awards included the Legion of Merit, presented to Col. Edward J. Gunning Jr. and the Massachusetts Air National Guard Non-Commissioned officer of 2016 which was presented to Staff Sgt. Shane Coakley, who deployed to Kandahar Air Feld, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom Sentinel.  

Rice concluded the ceremony thanking the wing for all the work they do. "The World is a very dangerous place out there. You hear about it in the news and the 104th Fighter Wing is the pointy end of making a difference across the world. We need you, our country needs you, our nation is thankful for all you do."

"Thank you for all the work you do to make the wing one of the best and now the best Air Control Unit in our country,"