LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Chief Master Sgt. James Tongate assumed responsibility as state command chief for Joint Force Headquarters—Air, Kentucky National Guard, during a ceremony here May 15.
Tongate, who previously served as human resource advisor to the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, replaces Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson, who is scheduled to retire later this summer.
Brig. Gen. Hal Lamberton, Kentucky’s adjutant general, praised Dawson for his leadership over the past four years, telling an audience of nearly 100 friends, family and coworkers that he set the bar for excellence.
“It’s been a pleasure, Chief Dawson, to work with you, to serve with you and to learn from you,” Lamberton told the crowd gathered in the Fuel Cell Hangar at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base.
He praised the outgoing SNCO for leading by example in everything from physical fitness and personal conduct to job performance and appearance, adding, “That kind of dynamic reflects throughout the entire force. Quite simply, we are a better air wing because of your example.”
Lamberton also spoke highly of Tongate, whose career includes distinguished service in operations support, aircrew service and human resources.
“I had the opportunity to choose Chief Tongate, and the decision was really kind of a tough one,” Lamberton said. “I had two folks, and both (would have) done terrifically well for the organization. But I went with Chief Tongate, and my primary thinking was that we’re striving to expand who we are and what we do in the Kentucky National Guard. Quite simply, I felt Chief Tongate would be a great facilitator in that regard by virtue of his connections and his personality.
“Chief Tongate, you’ve got significant shoes to fill. But I have no doubt you are the man to do it.”
As state command chief, Tongate will provide leadership and management resources for all enlisted personnel in the organization. He also will advise the adjutant general on issues affecting the morale and well-being of personnel and their families, as well as matters relating to manpower, equipment and training during peacetime in preparation for the wartime mission. He is accountable for working with a wide variety of federal and state authorities in all aspects of operations, personnel, equipment and funding.
In his comments to the audience, Tongate expressed gratitude to his family, Dawson, and both current and past leadership at wing and state headquarters for their support and guidance through the years.
He also pledged to work on behalf of all Airmen to keep the Kentucky Air National Guard on the leading edge of excellence.
“I look forward to driving the commander’s intent through our mission to provide relevant, ready forces in the multi-domain environment we’re living in today,” Tongate said. “And like our Army brothers and sisters say, it’s about continuous foxhole improvement.
“To my fellow National Guardsmen: The fact is, our enlisted force, both Army and Air, play pivotal roles in the everyday operational challenges we face. We, as the Kentucky National Guard, have shown time and time again that we have the talent and the perseverance to successfully face any challenge. However, we must never be complacent. We must accelerate change with the knowledge that our enemies continue to evolve their strategies and technologies.
“I appreciate each one of you and look forward to learning more about you, your units, and how I can assist with your readiness, your training, your quality of life and your personal development—so together, we can answer the call of service from our state and nation.”
Tongate entered active-duty military service in June 1986 and was assigned as an aircrew life support specialist to the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. In 1989, he transferred to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, as Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge of the aircrew life support quality section.
Tongate left active duty in 1991 and later joined the Kentucky Army National Guard as a military intelligence specialist in 1997. A few months later, he transferred to the Kentucky Air National Guard, rejoining his old career field to serve as an aircrew life support specialist through 2003. During this period, Tongate deployed to U.S. Central Command in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In August 2003, Tongate cross-trained as a C-130H Hercules loadmaster for the Kentucky Air Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron, eventually flying more than 1,741 hours—274 under combat conditions—in support of three tours of duty for Operation Enduring Freedom, United Nations missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, earthquake relief sorties in Haiti, multiple hurricane-response missions for Ivan, Ike, Katrina and Sandy, and numerous other airlift missions worldwide.