Maj. Gen. William Freeman (left), Mississippi’s Adjutant General and Maj. Gen. Alex Roberts (second from left) commander of the Mississippi Air National Guard, preside over the presentation of the guidon from Col. William Q. Platt (center facing), the new commander for the 286th Air Operations Group at Meridian Air National Guard Base, Miss., April 8, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Susan A. Romano)
Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, Continental U.S. NORAD Region-1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) commander presents an ‘initial cadre’ patch to a technical sergeant assigned to the 286th Air Operations Group at Meridian Air National Guard Base, Miss. The commander distributed the one-of-a-kind patches to each member of the group during a stand-up ceremony held at the base April 8, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Susan A. Romano)
The 286th Air Operations Group Honor Guard, based at Meridian Air National Guard Base, Miss., presents the colors during a stand-up ceremony held April 8, 2011. The unit will support the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command – 1st Air Force and Air Forces Northern with manpower and resources to respond in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, or during homeland defense operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Susan A. Romano)
Mississippi Adjutant General Maj. Gen. William Freeman presents an ‘initial cadre’ patch to a staff sergeant assigned to the 286th Air Operations Group at Meridian Air National Guard Base, Miss. The Adjutant General distributed one-of-a-kind patches to each member of the group during a stand-up ceremony held at the base April 8, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Susan A. Romano)
by Lt. Col. Susan A. Romano
AFNORTH Public Affairs
4/12/2011 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Some refer to it as span of control. Others dub it 'the tyranny of distance.' But in the eyes of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region-1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) commander, having a geographically separated unit under his watch could very well mean the difference between success and failure in a critical 'no-fail' mission.
CONR-1st Air Force is responsible for the homeland defense mission, including responding to potential events like the ones that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, while AFNORTH - U.S. Northern Command's air component - is tasked to support local, state, regional and federal emergency service agencies in the event of man-made and natural disasters.
Enter the 286th Air Operations Group located at Meridian Air National Guard Base, Miss. At a stand-up ceremony held at Meridian's Key Field April 8, the unit became an integral part of CONR-1st AF's full-spectrum response force.
"Standing up the 286th AOG is a logical, efficient, and effective way for us to accomplish our mission," said Maj. Gen Garry C. Dean, CONR-1st AF (AFNORTH) commander. "The 286th will be able to rapidly augment our organization in the event of an emerging natural disaster or air threat to homeland security, and having this manpower pool and technical expertise will greatly enhance our ability to respond at a moment's notice."
The assigned Airmen come from a variety of career fields - air battle managers, civil engineers, logistics, personnel, communications, and even a chaplain - to provide 'reach back' for the CONR commander to utilize when the scope of an event warrants augmentation.
"The whole idea is to be able to deploy specialists to an area or to Tyndall rapidly," said Col. William Q. Platt, 286th AOG commander. "If we had another disaster like Hurricane Katrina, the AFNORTH commander would be able to task the AOG, and we would send skilled Airmen to help with recovery and response actions."
The ceremony at Meridian ANGB included General Dean, Maj. Gen. William Freeman, the Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard, Maj. Gen. Alex Roberts, commander of the Mississippi Air National Guard, and Brig. Gen. Cathy Lutz, ANG assistant to the Air Force Chief Nurse, each who spoke to those in attendance.
A unique part of the ceremony came when the four distinguished general officers presented each Airman of the 286th AOG with a one-time only issue patch that identified them as initial cadre for the newly formed group. The idea is steeped in naval history. When a new vessel was launched, all those assigned or attached to the ship had the prestigious honor of being a 'plank holder,' harkening back to the days when ships had wooden hulls and decks. Earning the title of plank holder gave the bearer not only a unique honor, but also a proud responsibility in seeing to the continued success and good fortune of the vessel being launched.
The patch was designed by Carly Hudson, a Columbus, Miss., native and senior at Mississippi State University. The 286th AOG's vice commander, Col. Bruce Strickland, contacted Ms. Hudson, who was eager to get involved in support of the troops stationed at Meridian. She volunteered her artistic talents to create the organizational emblem, which now symbolizes the twofold mission the unit now undertakes.
With the cessation of the air refueling operations by the 186th Air Refueling Wing at Meridian, finding another mission set for the base is a welcome addition for many involved.
"This is an absolute win-win situation for us," said Col. Franklin Chalk, 186th ARW commander, "and a great thing for the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County. This mission ties perfectly with the altogether separate C-27 Spartan air mobility mission we have now."
According to Colonel Chalk, the unit employs almost 70 full-time Air National Guard personnel, and about another 250 part-time Guardsmen.