By Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 21, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Col. Warren H. Hurst officially took charge of the 123rd Airlift Wing today during a change-of-command ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., promising that readiness would be the cornerstone of his command.
"For the past 20 years, there has been a Kentucky (aircraft) or a Kentucky Guardsman in every major operation that the United States has been involved in," Hurst told a crowd of nearly 1,000 Airmen gathered in the base Fuel Cell Hangar.
"Every day since 9/11, we have had Airmen deployed around the world supporting our national interests. We also have responded to multiple stateside missions in support of major natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, ice storms and floods.
"I thank you for what you have done, and for what you will continue to do. We need your talent to keep our wing at the forefront of excellence as we prepare for upcoming inspections and future challenges. My philosophy on inspections and contingencies is that we should always be ready. So when I ask if you are ready, I hope to hear, 'Born ready!'"
Hurst, a combat veteran and command pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours, replaces Col. Greg Nelson, who has been named deputy director of strategic plans and policy at the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C.
Prior to his current assignment, Hurst stood up and commanded the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group, a unit designed to be an early responder in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other major emergency anywhere within a 400-mile radius of Louisville. The group -- one of only 10 CRGs in the Air Force and the first fully operational CRG in the Air National Guard -- also is capable of supporting military contingency operations worldwide.
Before assuming command of the 123rd CRG, Hurst served a three-year temporary duty tour on the Tanker Airlift Control Center Battle Staff at Air Mobility Command Headquarters, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
He has an extensive background in planning and executing expeditionary airlift operations worldwide. For example, Hurst coordinated civil-military air relief efforts during the 2010 Haiti earthquake and served as deputy director of mobility forces to the Pacific Air Forces commander in response to the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.
Commissioned through Officer Training School in 1986 after earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Houston--Clear Lake, Hurst has flown numerous C-130 combat and humanitarian missions worldwide, including operations in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Liberia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kentucky's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, praised Hurst as a visionary officer whose leadership helped craft national policy in the area of disaster response.
"His work as director of mobility forces during numerous National Level Exercises and contingencies, including the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear fuel issues in Japan, give credit to his leadership abilities and his vision for this air wing," Tonini told the audience.
"Warren was responsible for setting new standards of excellence in the disaster-response community and for developing NGB and Air Force policy in the CRG mission area," he added. "His profile is already extremely positive and national in scope."
Tonini, who officiated the change of command, then challenged Hurst to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, calling the 123rd Airlift Wing a vital component of America's defense and disaster-response capabilities.
"Warren, you are in a place now where you can make a huge difference, not just to the Airmen under your command, but to the citizens of the Commonwealth in their time of need," he said.
Tonini also had high praise for Nelson, whom he called "an exceptional and totally focused leader."
During his four-year term as wing commander, which ran from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 16, 2012, Nelson guided the unit to unprecedented levels of achievement, gaining new missions and aircraft while earning the wing's 15th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award -- a feat unsurpassed in the entire U.S. Air Force.
Throughout Nelson's tenure, the wing deployed hundreds of Airmen to participate in numerous overseas missions in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn and Coronet Oak, including a historic deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 during which Kentucky aircrews broke multiple records for the amount of cargo airlifted and airdropped to coalition forces.
The wing was active closer to home, as well, mobilizing the 123rd CRG to the Dominican Republic to establish one of two contingency air hubs for the movement of humanitarian relief into Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. The unit ultimately was responsible for coordinating the delivery of 725 short tons of life-saving aid, an accomplishment Tonini termed "nothing short of remarkable."
Nelson personally set new benchmarks of performance, too, Tonini said. He was instrumental in the development of the 123rd Contingency Response Group into a national model of excellence, and he expertly directed mobility operations during catastrophic floods in Pakistan in 2011 while deployed to Qatar as the deputy director of mobility forces at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, U.S. Central Command.
"His efforts set new standards for the rest of us to follow," Tonini said in summation. "Greg, thank you so much for your leadership, your professionalism and your compassion as the leader of this great organization. I look forward to working with you as you take your new position as the deputy director of strategic plans and policies at the National Guard Bureau."
Nelson used the occasion -- his last official function as wing commander -- to thank the men and women of the Kentucky Air Guard for their dedication and service over the past four years.
"Thank you for believing in my leadership, accepting my direction and helping make the 123rd Airlift Wing the best tactical airlift wing in the United States Air Force," Nelson said to the audience.
"Four years ago, I told you a little about my history and what I believe in. As I leave today, I want you to know that I still believe in our great nation and our military. And more than ever, I believe in the strength of each and every man and woman in the 123rd Airlift Wing. You do not wait to be called. You always step up. You are always the first to be there.
"I want you to know what an honor and a blessing it has been to command the unit I grew up in. I am proud of each and every one of you for what you do for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and our great nation."
The 123rd Airlift Wing, based in Louisville, is home to about 1,200 Airmen and 10 C-130 Hercules aircraft. The unit's primary mission is tactical airlift. Other key missions include contingency response, special tactics combat control and pararescue.