Flag ceremony ushers in Special Ops

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Col. Scott West prepares to receive his last salute as commander of the 27th Fighter Wing at the change of command ceremony Monday at Cannon Air Force Base.

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Hand over hand, four white gloves methodically traveled over a wooden flag pole, exchanging the old 27th Fighter Wing colors for the new 27th Special Operations Wing flag.

Performed by the 27th Fighter Wing Honor Guard, the flag ceremony signified the official change of command Monday at Cannon Air Force Base from Air Combat Command to Special Operations Command.

“By order of the Secretary of the Air Force, all airmen are relieved from their Air Combat Command duties effective Oct. 1, 2007,” Gen. Norman Seip, 12th Air Force commander said.

The official ceremony marked the end of a 2 1/2 year battle to save Cannon from being shuttered after the Base Realignment and Closure Committee recommended it be closed.

The first airmen and aircraft from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., will begin arriving in November.

The Air Force has said the final active-duty population at Cannon is expected to be between 4,400 and 5,600 people and about 100 aircraft will be built up over the next six years.

Prior to the flag exchange ceremony, Seip addressed the large crowd that was assembled in a Cannon hangar. “We are opening up a new chapter,” Seip said.

Seip lauded the accomplishments of Col. Scott West, who has served as the commander of the 27th Fighter Wing since March 2006. Seip said West had two constant themes during his tenure, one being that Cannon airmen were still valued although the base was being threatened with closure and that airmen should “work hard and play smart.”

West relinquished command of the base to Col. Tim Leahy, who became the first commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing.

Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, Air Force Special Operations commander, said he was proud to bear witness to the vision that AFSOC has had for many years — acquiring an AFSOC base west of the Mississippi. “This is a magnificent base in a magnificent community,” Wooley said. “We (AFSOC) will uphold the high standard the 27th Fighter Wing has been known for during their rich history.”

Leahy, who was promoted from vice commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., thanked Wooley for setting an “unwavering example” and West for “shouldering the burden of working under two commands.”

Leahy concluded by saying the mission for Cannon is now clear. “We (AFSOC) are going to transform Cannon into a base that is unsurpassed in training special operations airmen ready to deploy whenever and wherever required,” he said, “and we are going to make New Mexico a better place to work and raise our children.”