Mission Support chief carries on Air Force family tradition
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 17, 2006 1:51 PM
Every time Col. Russell Walden looks out the window of his new office on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, he is reminded of his father -- a fighter pilot who flew many of the jets on display around Heritage Park.
The new commander of the 4th Fighter Wing's Mission Support Group said that's just one of the perks that comes with his new assignment.
Walden and his family came to Goldsboro from Washington, D.C., a change they are "more than excited about," he said.
"We just love it," Walden said. "Are you kidding me? To get away from the beltway and all that traffic, it is nice. This is a small community where everybody pretty much knows what is going on, and they know each other."
Life in the South, away from the nation's capital, is a welcome change for other reasons too, he added.
"We like the sweet tea," Walden said. "(The family), they really love it. I don't drink it that much but my daughters and wife do. We are so happy to be here. And the reception from the community has been unbelievable. My family, we have just been impressed."
Impressed because the people of Goldsboro and Wayne County have, in a few days, already left a lasting impact, he added.
"It's how much they welcome everybody," Walden said. "My sense is the community really understands what the wing is doing. There is such an understanding that they know when we're deploying, when we're coming home and what the mission is. They immediately look and say, 'Oh, you're serving at the base? You're at Seymour?' It's a great type of feeling."
Because of the connection he feels between members of the community and the base, he added, he hopes to continue the efforts made by his predecessors to give back to Goldsboro and Wayne.
"I think I want to continue all the great work that started before I got here," Walden said. "I need to really find out what has been established. I think after about a month or two, I might be able to find areas where I can say, 'Hey, have you thought about doing this'. I don't have specific areas yet because I don't know the community that well yet."
When he first got the news that he had been chosen to lead the Mission Support Group, it was "a humbling experience."
"Obviously the Air Force and senior leaders in the Air Force have entrusted me with a great responsibility," Walden said. "It's humbling in that regard."
But it was also exciting, he added -- leading close to 2,000 "dedicated volunteers."
"You know that everyone who is here is motivated because they have a sense of service, desire and purpose to come in. I'm just charged by that. It's awesome."
Walden is particularly pleased to be leading the men and women in the Mission Support Group.
"Every squadron has a unique and distinct capability that enables this wing to do its mission which is 'fly, fight and win,'" Walden said. "It is the Mission Support Group, but 'mission' was added a few years ago. It used to be just the Support Group. Really, if you look at the lineage and heritage of some of these groups, it was Combat Support Group at one time.
"With what's going on right now with the global war on terrorism, I like to think of this group as more of a mission group as opposed to a mission support group. The reason I say that is because if you look at the squadrons, for example the Security Forces squadron that we've got, the preponderance of people who are deployed, a lot of them are coming from that squadron right now. The things that they are doing are close-in combat at times. Not all the time, but you know, they are seeing the whites of the eyes of the enemy at times. Everybody in this group has the ability to affect everyone across the wing."
And the "fighter wing" life is what he has always loved, he added -- maybe because his father was stationed at Seymour from 1973 to 1974.
"There is a lot of the heritage here," Walden said. "There are people who served before the people in now. We know there will be people who serve after us. We're kind of the link right now. When my father was serving here, did he know I was going to be in the Air Force? Probably not back in 1973 or 1974. I was still a sophomore in high school trying to keep myself out of trouble at times. I am really proud, because when I look out here at Heritage Park, I see three aircraft that my dad flew. I look out there and know that there were many dedicated professionals who enabled those aircrafts to fly and fight. The same thing is going on today in this wing. I'm way excited about it. I have served in a few other units that my dad served in before, but it's really neat to be here in a place where he was kind of the equivalent of an O-6 leadership here. I'm hoping that the things that I do, my pride in his past and my past, and my faith in the future of everyone else who is going to be involved in this wing, will just continue on."
And for the airmen who he will lead, he hopes they reach high and achieve their goals -- and that he can be a part of the dream each is living, he said.
"I hope to be out in front, but not get run over by them because I know they are trying to do great things," Walden said. "If I can only help them achieve their goals, I would say, 'Great, I have done something for them.'"
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