07/11/08 — 4th MXG Commander Col. Alan Northrup stands down

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4th MXG Commander Col. Alan Northrup stands down

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 11, 2008 1:46 PM

Alan Northrup would rather not talk about his upcoming assignment.

The Air Force colonel simply has too much to say about the one he will be leaving this morning.

So as he prepared for today's ceremony on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- one at which he will relinquish command of the 4th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group -- Northrup took some time to reflect on his stint among young men and women he calls unsung heroes.

And to tell them, 'Thank you.'

"It has been extremely humbling to have been around these people," Northrup said of those he has commanded the past two-plus years. "They just persevere."

Like the time the 4th Fighter Wing was called on to perform a flyover at President Gerald Ford's funeral and maintainers successfully launched more than a dozen F-15E Strike Eagles.

Or when for eight months straight, airmen from his unit completed successful launch after successful launch from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan -- without hesitation, without failure.

"And you know, they never say, 'Look at me. Look at what I have done.' It's assumed that they are going to do a great job," Northrup said. "It's an automatic."

That mentality, he said, is a result of the high standards set by both wing and group leadership from day one.

"We set incredibly high standards at home. It's like a football team that practices hard," he said. "If the practice is harder than the game, they will win every time."

And when the "game" is war, losing is never an option.

"The world needs nice guys, but it also needs tough leaders. Especially during a time of war," Northrup said. "So yes, we work long hours, we're grease-stained. But that is what you do at war,"

He knows the stakes are too high to do it any other way.

But that does not make it any less impressive when the 18-year-old crew chief successfully completes his or her mission.

"We're in a can't fail position. Lives are always in our hands," Northrup said. "It takes resilient people to get through that."

So knowing they receive little spotlight, he offered some parting praises.

"Our folks don't want sympathy from anybody and they have never asked for recognition," he said. "Some of my airmen, you would never see these people. They are invisible."

Like the guy building the bomb in a facility few outside the base gates have seen.

Or the crew working hydraulics at 3 a.m. to ensure each F-15E is ready for a morning training sortie.

"They are the people who work 12-hour shifts most of the time. We deploy them, we work them on weekends," Northrup said. "You know, this fleet takes a lot of work to maintain. I would guess most people don't realize all that goes into it. So these people, being around them has been humbling. ... I often ask myself, 'How did I get here?' I really don't deserve to be here with them. They are of that caliber."

So as he saluted them this morning for the final time as their commander, it might have been hard for him to look ahead to the new mission waiting for him at Joint Force Command Brunssum, a NATO installation in the Netherlands focused on reconstructing Afghanistan.

He understands full well just what he is leaving behind.

But knowing he is leaving his airmen under the care of Col. Joseph Diana sets his mind at ease.

And so does knowing that the military town surrounding Seymour Johnson will never let them down.

"The people here are unbelievably kind. I can see why so many people retire here. The community is just great," Northrup said. "The people genuinely love our country, they love the Air Force and they love what we do. It makes it feel so much better to come home. And it feels like home."