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Heard retires as Medical Group commander, concluding 23 years of service

Col. Henry Heard (right), the outgoing commander of the 123rd Medical Group, receives the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal from Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, during Heard’s retirement ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 13, 2014. Heard is retiring after more than two decades of service to the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joshua Horton)

Col. Henry Heard (right), the outgoing commander of the 123rd Medical Group, receives the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal from Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, during Heard’s retirement ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 13, 2014. Heard is retiring after more than two decades of service to the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joshua Horton)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- After more than two decades of service to the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, Col. Henry "Hank" Heard officially retired during a ceremony held here Sept. 13.

As commander of the 123rd Medical Group, Heard provided leadership to more than 90 Airmen, including medical personnel assigned to the Kentucky National Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, while also overseeing the training of medical personnel in the Operations and Contingency Response Groups.

"Out here, he's a leader," Col. Barry Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, told audience members gathered for the ceremony in the Base Annex. "We pay him to have strategic vision of where this organization is going to go in the future, and he does it extremely well. You were with us every time we needed you. You were an extremely effective leader in convincing people to go the direction you saw the organization going.

"Thanks for everything you've done. Godspeed in the future, my friend."

Heard attended West Georgia College and the Southern School of Pharmacy before transferring to the Medical College of Georgia, graduating in the school's third class of physician assistants in 1976. He soon became active in several professional organizations, serving as president of the Georgia Association of Physician Assistants and as a member of the Composite State Board of Medical Examiners of Georgia. Heard also holds a master's degree in physician assistant studies from the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

Nearing 41 years of age without prior military experience, Heard joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1991, accepting a direct commission as a first lieutenant. He served as a physician assistant in the 908th Medical Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, before transferring to the 187th Fighter Wing, Alabama Air National Guard, in 1996.

Heard is the first Air Force physician assistant to complete the United States Army Flight Surgeons course in 1995, the first Air Guard physician assistant to complete the "Top Knife" program in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and the first physician assistant to be promoted to the rank of colonel in the Air National Guard. In 2002, Heard was honored as the Air National Guard's Outstanding Physician Assistant of the Year.

The following year, he deployed overseas as a member of the 160th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Medical Element. During his most recent deployment, Heard assumed command of the 447th Expeditionary Medical Squadron at Sather Air Base, Iraq.

Heard's replacement, Col. Michael A. Cooper, praised the outgoing commander for his leadership at the Kentucky Air National Guard.

"The focus today should be on this great patriot as he retires," said Cooper, former Air Force Reserve Command Biomedical Sciences Corps senior leader for the physician assistant career field. "I want to thank him for his service to the nation and to the Commonwealth of Kentucky as a member of the Kentucky Air Guard. Thank you, Colonel Heard, for leaving this unit in fine order. I'll work hard to build on what you've done here."