By Col. EJ Gunning, Mission Support Group Commander , 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published April 06, 2014
104th Fighter Wing, Westfield, Mass. -- Eventually, it happens to all of us...
Not that long ago, I remember thinking that my career at the 104th Fighter Wing was starting to wind down - the time between then and now has flown by - and retirement is knocking on my door! May 31, 2014 will be my last day in uniform; bringing to a close a very significant chapter in my life. I've served for almost 32 years and, even if given the chance, I wouldn't change a single minute.
When Col. Keefe asked me to write this month's Commander's Column, we discussed talking about all the changes I've seen over the years here at Barnes. There have been many, many changes since I first took the oath in 1982 - and many things that have remained constant as well. I think if you study great organizations, both military and civilian, you'll find the same trend. It's the underlying stability of a unit that allows change to be tolerated, even embraced by an organization. It's one of the main strengths of the 104th Fighter Wing, in my opinion - change doesn't throw us off our game - after we get by the initial uncertainty, it brings focus and a unified purpose... through the years it's always presented an opportunity to make the 104th "brand" even stronger, and we've always risen to the challenge!
When I first arrived at the 104th, in the summer of 1982, Barnes was a very different place. The Fighter Squadron operated out of Building 001 (the current Operations building wasn't built yet), with the pilots walking from the double-doors on the flight line side of the building straight to the jets on the ramp - no controlled area fences and nothing near the security to which we've become accustomed. People smoked at their desks, went to the club for a beer or two at lunch (and then launched the afternoon go!), and, frankly, didn't think a whole lot about the possibility of mobilizing and deploying for contingency operations. We were a reserve force - diligently preparing under the Checkered Flag program and ready to fend off a Russian advance through the Turkish Straits - but relegated to remain "on the bench," only getting a call to go if things got really bad. Of course, that all changed in August 1990 when Saddam Hussein tried to pull a fast one and annex Kuwait. The 104th didn't get the chance to help in the first Desert Storm war, but we've had the opportunity to participate in a number of named contingencies since, including Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, also known as "Desert Storm II." Now, in 2014, with the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts (mostly) in the rearview mirror, the Air National Guard and the 104th Fighter Wing have to be considered as "operational" as any active duty unit. Considering the lines we've filled for Agile Combat Support (ACS), there hasn't been a time in recent memory when we haven't had someone downrange and in harm's way. Actually, you could argue that with our Aerospace Control Alert tasking, we're more operational than most active duty units - we perform real-world missions every day, with the potential to employ the F-15 in anger at a moment's notice! It's pretty impressive how the 104th has evolved over the years and I'm thrilled that I was a part of the journey.
Great units don't get that way without great leadership - period. Folks that can see what's coming, develop a plan, communicate their vision, assemble the right folks to get it done, and then motivate the team to accomplish goals are critical to a unit's success. We're fortunate to have had a number of great leaders at the 104th - Maj. Gen. George Keefe, Maj. Gen. Dick Platt, Col. Bud Scheller, and Lt. Col. Mal Snow - among many others, have guided the 104th through numerous transitions during my tenure at the Wing. Each had the ability to inspire folks around them to bigger and better things... and each could do whatever they asked of you way better than you could. And each played a role in my career, kickin' me in the butt when I needed it and allowing me to make the most of amazing opportunities along the way. I'm grateful for their leadership, assistance, and friendship. I also need to say "thanks" to Lt. Col. (ret.) Lenny Masiello. Lenny, a friend of my older sister, took pity on me after I got booted from naval aviator training at Pensacola and helped me get a UPT slot with the 104th - without his help, there's no telling where my life would've gone. Of course, I need to take just a second to brag on my daughter Ari who joined the 104th in June of 2011. I had the privilege of administering the Oath of Enlistment to her and I couldn't be more proud! There's something really special when a child follows in your footsteps - I'm sure she'll continue to excel and I know she'll help me stay connected with this outstanding unit.
So, 32 years in the books and time to move on. As I mentioned, I'm very grateful for all the opportunities the 104th Fighter Wing has afforded me over the years, and I'm hopeful that I've played even a small role in the many successes we've enjoyed during that time. If I had one piece of advice to offer, I'd suggest that, in everything you do, protect the reputation of the 104th. If you've got that covered, everything else is easy.
Good luck and Godspeed.