Military News

Monday, July 15, 2013

New 1st SOW commander inherits Air Commando legacy

by Senior Airman Joe McFadden
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

7/3/2013 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla.  -- Before hundreds of Air Commandos, citizens of the Emerald Coast, and static displays of special operations aircraft, Col. William West assumed command of the 1st Special Operations Wing during a change of command ceremony at the Freedom Hangar here, July 3.

Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presided over the ceremony in which West, former commander of 27th Special Operations Group at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., received the reins of the wing from outgoing commander, Col. Jim Slife.

"A change of command ceremony is as much about recognizing great Airmen, civilians and Air Force families as it is about commanders," Fiel said. "It's an honor for me to recognize the achievements of Colonel Jim Slife and the 1st SOW's dedicated Air Commandos as he relinquishes command and to appoint Colonel Bill West, another extraordinary officer, as your new wing commander."

West now assumes the mantle of the 1st SOW's 36th commander since Col. Phil Cochran headed its ancestor, the 1st Air Commando Group, in 1943. The wing which began by flying wooden Chindit gliders in Burma-Indo-China during World War II is today the Air Force's fourth largest combat wing on one of its most populous installations.

"Since they first took to the air in World War II, they have served with distinction, and the men and women of the 1st SOW continue to serve our nation's call for specialized airpower any time, any place with spectacular results," the general said. "The courage, precision and execution by our modern Air Commandos would make the early pioneers proud."

West, who earned his commission from Texas Tech University, has flown more than 2,400 hours as an instructor and evaluator navigator in the C-141B and AC-130U aircraft. He previously served at Hurlburt Field while assigned to AFSOC Headquarters, the then-16th Special Operations Group, the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron and the 4th Special Operations Squadron during his nearly 24-year Air Force career.

"Colonel West has a wealth of combat leadership experience coupled with a history of providing groundbreaking solutions to tough problems," Fiel said. "Bill, you are a proven leader, and I am extremely confident in the future of the 1st SOW as you assume command today of this elite, combat-ready unit and continue to take the fight to our nation's enemies."

In his first address to the 1st SOW as its commander, West remarked on the journey he took as one who attended previous wing changes of command here as a spectator to now being the present commander on the stage receiving the guidon.

"Words cannot convey what an honor it is to stand up here and take command of this wing," West said. "It's very humbling. General Fiel, thank you for the trust and confidence you have put in me to command this wing. I will not let you down."

West then thanked the wing for their professionalism and emphasized a renewed focus on training and responsiveness in times of uncertainty.

"To the men and women of the 1st SOW, I recently had the privilege of deploying with you in Afghanistan, and I was absolutely impressed. You should be proud of your combat performance," he said. "Now that we have this historic time as we have most, though not all, of the wing home for the first time in over a decade, we're going to take advantage of this opportunity and refocus on training so we're prepared to go back to Afghanistan and so we can maintain that high state of readiness that you are at right now to respond to crises when our nation calls any time, any place."

Slife, who was awarded the Legion of Merit during the ceremony, lauded the men and women who comprise the wing he commanded since June 2011.

Since then, the 1st SOW accumulated 25,446 combat sorties in support of joint and allied special operations missions around the world. The wing additionally earned an "Excellent" rating on its first Consolidated Unit Inspection, oversaw the transfer of its units on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., back to Hurlburt Field and the first full return of flying squadrons from deployment since 9/11.

"I could not be any prouder of the wing," Slife said. "This team is the best in the United States Air Force. It has been a highlight of my life to be your commander, and I would do it again - any time, any place. The wing could not be passed to a better commander than Colonel Bill West. I walk away from here with my head held high and absolute confidence that this wing is going to far surpass anything it's ever done in the past now under Colonel West's leadership."

Slife, who was selected for promotion to brigadier general, is being assigned to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

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