09/07/06 — Col. Kwast takes reins at Seymour

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Col. Kwast takes reins at Seymour

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 7, 2006 1:50 PM

As Col. Mike Holmes received his final salute from the men and women of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, some of the stoic faces in the crowd revealed soft smiles.

A formal ceremony on base this morning made it official -- Holmes was relieved of his command over the 4th Fighter Wing, passing the torch to a seasoned command pilot, Col. Steve Kwast.

Most of the wing and many leaders from the Goldsboro and Wayne County communities were on hand for the event, officials said. As Holmes addressed his airmen for the final time, he recognized their achievements during his two-year stint as their commander.

"You're my heroes," he said. "I'm proud of you, and I'll miss you."

Holmes also thanked the leadership from those communities surrounding Seymour Johnson. Without their support, many of his dreams might not have come to fruition, he said.

"To this great community ... thanks for being here today," Holmes said. "But more importantly, for being here every other day."

New commander Col. Kwast called the opportunity to lead the 4th "a great honor" and "sacred responsibility."

As he addressed the airmen for the first time, he thanked Holmes for his great service to the U.S. Air Force and vowed to continue the wing's pursuit of excellence.

"I would like to join the chorus of people in telling you 'thank you,'" Kwast said to his predecessor. "I feel like the luckiest man in the world up here."

North Carolina is a great place to be, he added -- the people here really know how to take care of the military. And he should know.

Kwast was a member of the 336th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson from 1990 to 1996 and said the state and its communities rank with the very best in the country.

"To be here ... We're the luckiest airmen in the nation," he said.

Kwast has worn many hats throughout his military career. He has been a student, pilot and both a squadron and group commander.

He has recorded 238 combat hours during operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom and has flown both the F-15E and T-6.

Kwast said he looks forward to leading the wing over the next few years and hopes the airmen at Seymour Johnson know that without them, his accomplishments would mean little.

"To the men and women of the 4th, this is your day ... You are the reason this wing is great," he said. "This is going to be a good run."

Kwast has earned several awards and decorations including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Aerial Achievement Medal with three oak leaf clusters and the Air Force Commendation medal.