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Harden retires after 38 years of military service

Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, presents Col. Michael Harden with a certificate of retirement during a ceremony held on base Aug. 10. Colonel Harden, a former wing commander, also received a Meritorious Service Medal and the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal at the ceremony. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora/KyANG)

Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, presents Col. Michael Harden with a certificate of retirement during a ceremony held on base Aug. 10. Colonel Harden, a former wing commander, also received a Meritorious Service Medal and the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal at the ceremony. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora/KyANG)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Louisville, Ky. -- Airmen and senior National Guard leaders packed the base Annex Aug. 10 to bid farewell to Col. Michael Harden, a former 123rd Airlift Wing commander and the advisor to the commander of Air Mobility Command.

Colonel Harden's retirement marked the end of 38 years of distinguished service that included tours in Vietnam and Iraq. He commanded the wing here from April 1995 to September 1999, and again from March 2001 to June 2004.

"I've seen the sun rise over the Mekong River and I've seen the sun rise over the Euphrates (River) about 30 years apart," said Colonel Harden, who earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for service in Vietnam and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his most recent accomplishments, which ensured the Air National Guard's support of current and future operations around the world.

"In my time, the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen have remained the same," he said. But in recognizing the all-volunteer service of today's force, he noted that modern Airmen "don't have to go to war -- they get to."

Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, Kentucky's adjutant general, said  Colonel Harden's service as "Wing King" resulted in the 123rd garnering multiple national awards for excellence and valor.

"Mike is many things, but first and foremost he is a great patriot -- truly committed to his country, to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and to the men and women with whom he has served," General Tonini said.

Colonel Harden, who received two standing ovations during the ceremony, used the forum to encourage current and future leaders to support their Airmen.

"We must nurture our young folks and provide them with mentors and make sure they have the resources to do their job safely in war and to come home safely," he said. "We're facing some challenging fiscal times. The challenge is going to be to make sure that our kids have the resources necessary to continue what they're doing."

In recognition of his dedicated service, several national leaders were on hand to present Colonel Harden with a framed National Guard Heritage Print depicting C-130 missions during Operation Coronet Oak, an airlift support operation in South America.

One of those leaders, Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley, director of the Air National Guard, called Colonel Harden "a great American," while another, Maj. Gen. F. Dexter Tutor, praised his "magnificent passion" for the Guard mission.

"There is nothing you could ask Mike to do, personally or professionally, that he couldn't accomplish," said General Tutor, special assistant to the ANG director.

Colonel Harden is a master navigator with more than 4,000 hours of flight. He's flown the C-130, RF-4C, T-43 and T-37. His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Air Medal with device and the Air Force Outstanding Unit award with nine devices.

"It's been a great run," he told his Airmen. "There's no place that I'd rather be than right here with you folks."