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Ceremony marks new era of base leadership

Col. Greg Nelson addresses members of the 123rd Airlift Wing after taking command of the unit Oct. 5. He began his career as an enlisted Airman and has served for more than three decades. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard.)

Col. Greg Nelson addresses members of the 123rd Airlift Wing after taking command of the unit Oct. 5. He began his career as an enlisted Airman and has served for more than three decades. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard.)

Col. Mark Kraus bids the wing farewell during his comments Oct. 5.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare, Kentucky Air National Guard.)

Col. Mark Kraus bids the wing farewell during his comments Oct. 5. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare, Kentucky Air National Guard.)

The Base Color Guard opens the change-of-command ceremony as the wing stands at attention on the KyANG flightline. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard.)

The Base Color Guard opens the change-of-command ceremony as the wing stands at attention on the KyANG flightline. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard.)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE,. Ky. -- The 123rd Airlift Wing's new commander hit the ground running Oct. 5 with a promise to seek additional missions, volunteer for more assignments and embrace a forward-leaning approach to all aspects of military and personal readiness.

Speaking to 1,100 members of the Kentucky Air Guard who had gathered on the base flightline for a wing change-of-command ceremony, Colonel Nelson said the U.S. military and the National Guard "hold the responsibility for the security and defense of our freedoms."

"I don't believe Kentucky is that state that's always there when you call," he said. "I believe Kentucky is the state that picks up the phone and says, 'You need help? We're there.'

"I believe Kentucky is the first out the door. You need to know that we're not going to wait to be called. We're going to go out and look for ways that we can support the citizens of the commonwealth, the United States and our allies abroad.

"I make this promise to each and every one of you: I promise that I will not let you down. I promise every day that I'm going to do the best, with the abilities I'm given, to do the right thing."

Colonel Nelson also vowed to seek new missions for the wing's Airmen despite cutbacks in many areas of the defense community. In 2006, for example, the Air Force downsized the wing's flying capacity by reassigning four of its original 12 C-130 aircraft.

"I'm going to look for ways to put more aircraft back on this ramp, more buildings on this base, and more Airmen and officers in the Kentucky Air National Guard," the 34-year military veteran said.

"Every bit of that success depends on what you all do every day. I want to thank you in advance, and if you'll stick with me, I also promise that we'll have fun."

Brig. Gen. Michael Dornbush, the Kentucky Air Guard's Chief of Staff, had high praise for Colonel Nelson during the ceremony, calling him a distinguished leader who earned a Bronze Star for his exceptional performance during deployments to CENTAF for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

"It's a pleasure to see Greg being given the opportunity for wing command," said General Dornbush, who officiated the change-of-command ceremony. "I am confident he will maintain the great legacy of wing leadership."

General Dornbush also had high praise for the unit's outgoing leader, Col. Mark Kraus, who has done "simply a superb job as commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing," he said.

During Colonel Kraus' four-year tenure, the wing scored three Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards, aced a grueling schedule of higher-headquarters inspections and successfully supported a challenging series of overseas deployments to Afghanistan, Europe and Puerto Rico while beefing up U.S. border security through Operation Jump Start and responding to natural disasters back home, including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav.

Colonel Kraus earned his second Bronze Star in 2007 for exceptional performance as deputy commander of the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group in Afghanistan, where he expertly managed six flying squadrons responsible for providing close-air support, electronic attack, military airlift and aeromedical evacuation in an extreme combat-flying environment.

"Mark, the 123rd's many accomplishments under your direction have brought worldwide credit and acclaim," General Dornbush said. "I salute you."

Colonel Kraus used the occasion to express his gratitude to the men and women of the Kentucky Air National Guard for their dedication to duty and excellence.

"I want to tell you how proud I am of you and the multitude of your accomplishments in the past four years," he said.

"We have indeed walked the long road together. We have safely flown through combat deployments, we've weathered seasons of readiness and compliance inspections, and performed countless humanitarian and community-service missions. You have excelled at all and readied yourself for more.

"You modeled the highest attributes of the citizen-Airman of a nation at war. You answered the call of your community, state and nation. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to serve as your commander, and I count this time as a treasure to keep. You have my untiring gratitude and thanks for a job well done every step of the way.

"Finally, congratulations to Colonel Nelson on your new command. The men and women of this wing before you are individually the best -- the very best -- that America has to offer. And collectively, they are the best wing in the Air National Guard.

"After 34 years, as I step beyond the shield of this wing, I will encourage you to remember its motto, which has served well so many Kentucky Airmen in the past: Fortune Follows the Brave."