Nelson concludes 40-year career of military service

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. James W. Killen
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The men and women of the Kentucky Air National Guard gathered here Nov. 8 to culminate Brig. Gen. Gregory L. Nelson's 40 years of faithful service to the United States of America, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the U.S. Air Force.

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 200 guests who gathered in the Base Annex for Nelson's retirement ceremony, Kentucky's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, told stories of Nelson's intellect, tenacity and skill in planning and executing a mission.

"You absolutely epitomize unbridled service, Greg. I have a deep appreciation for you; you are a patriot, you are a hero and you have always done a magnificent job." 

General Nelson's brother, Mark, took the podium to talk about growing up as the older Nelson, and about how proud he is of his brother's accomplishments despite their humble beginnings in Okolona, Ky.

The crowd began to laugh as Mark told of his first interaction with his brother.

"When our mom brought him home from the hospital, she held him down so I could see him and I reached up, grabbed his hand, and bent all of his fingers backward!"

Mark went on to highlight the man his brother had become, and how he didn't know the fingers he bent backward so long ago would be attached to the hands of a person who would go on to raise tremendous children, be an amazing husband and have such an esteemed military career.

After embracing his brother, Nelson gave his departing words to the Kentucky Air National Guard.

He told of his antics as a young Airman, his career spanning the entire globe, and his devotion to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Kentucky Air National Guard.

Sharing his wisdom with the young Airmen in attendance, Nelson said, "If I've learned anything in my career, it is to learn from your mistakes and do the very best you can."

Nelson began his career as an enlisted Airman in May 1975, before commissioning in 1984 through the Air National Guard Academy of Military Science and becoming a weapons systems officer in the RF-4C Phantom II with the 165th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.

In May 1989 he converted to a C-130 Navigator in conjunction with the Kentucky Air National Guard's new tactical airlift mission.

"Let me tell you the difference between an F-4 and a C-130," Nelson said. "The fun of the F-4 is getting there; the fun of the C-130 is where you get to go."  

He would go on to hold several leadership positions within the Kentucky Air National Guard and the United States military. In the 123rd, Nelson served as the deputy chief of the command post, chief of logistics plans and chief of wing plans.  He also served as the director of strategic plans and programs at Joint Forces Headquarters, Kentucky; director of mobility forces for U.S. Northern Command; and deputy director of mobility forces for U.S. Central Command.

In October 2008, Nelson was appointed commander of the 123d Airlift Wing, a position he described as "the best job I ever had." During his tenure as wing commander, Nelson personally oversaw the creation of the 123rd Contingency Response Group, a self-contained quick-response force capable of establishing airfield operations in austere environments. It remains the only such unit in the Air National Guard.

Lt. Col. Bruce Bancroft, commander of the CRG's 123rd Global Mobility Squadron, praised Nelson's leadership, saying, "You do not have the opportunity to thank a person very often, especially for the creation of your unit.

"On behalf of the 123rd Contingency Response Group, sir, a very sincere 'thank you'."  

Nelson held the reins of the 123rd Airlift Wing for four years before closing his military career at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.  His final assignment was vice director for strategy, policy, plans and international affairs for the National Guard Bureau from 2012 to 2015.

Nelson's retirement plans include studying for his Ph.D., volunteering with the American Red Cross, and independent consulting work in strategic planning and problem solutions for disaster response and emergency operations management.