08/15/08 — New 4th Fighter Wing commander named

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New 4th Fighter Wing commander named

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 15, 2008 1:36 PM

From Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Col. Mark Kelly got the news -- the F-15E pilot has been named the next 4th Fighter Wing commander.

Colonel Mark Kelly

Air Force officials released their selection shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday, and within minutes, the man he will replace called the choice "outstanding."

"Col. Mark Kelly is an outstanding selection for this wing and community," said Col. Steve Kwast, current 4th commander. "He is a war fighter and an experienced commander who is coming straight to us from the war in Afghanistan."

Prior to his deployment, Kelly served as vice commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and was charged with supporting the wing commander in overseeing an operational fighter wing of more than 4,800 military and civilian members and three squadrons of F-15C and F-15E fighter aircraft.

But his experience in the Strike Eagle is not the only reason he is the right choice, Kwast said.



* Distinguished Flying Cross w/ "V" Device and one oak leaf cluster

* Bronze Star

* Royal Australian Air Force Chief of Air Force Gold Medal

* Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters

* Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters

* Aerial Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster

* Air Force Commendation Medal

* Air Force Achievement Medal


* Rating: Command pilot

* Flight hours: More than 5,000

* Aircraft flown: T-37, T-38, F/A-18, F-15E

Kelly is no stranger to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- or the 4th's mission.

In fact, he was stationed here from June 2001 through May 2006 -- as 4th Operational Support Squadron Weapons and Tactics Flight commander, 336th Fighter Squadron director of operations and, finally, commander of the 333rd Fighter Squadron.

"Since he was formerly the 333rd Fighter Squadron commander here, he understands the special bond between Seymour and the Goldsboro community," Kwast said. "I have no doubt his leadership will take this wing to soaring heights."

And since he will be coming from Bagram -- the same base 4th air crews returned home from earlier this year -- he understands just how important the F-15E Strike Eagle is to the Allied effort there.

Kelly has served in operational F-15E units in the Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Combat Command, where he led combat missions over Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq in support of operations Deliberate Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

He is a decorated command pilot with a Bronze Star.

Talk of Kelly taking command of the 4th began shortly after Col. Thomas Bergeson was selected to lead the 3rd Fighter Wing at Elmendorf, Alaska, July 31.

Bergeson was scheduled to replace Kwast at a formal ceremony today, but when 3rd Commander Brig. Gen. Thomas Tinsley died, circumstances changed.

"That wing up there is one of the few F-22 wings in our Air Force, and the F-22 is such a new weapons system, there are very few senior leaders that have experience in it," Kwast said when the decision to reassign Bergeson was announced. "In fact, Col. Bergeson is the only one in the Air Force with the background and experience to heal this crisis. ... We have a lot of people who can lead an F-15 wing like ours, but there are really only two who can lead that wing. One of them just died and one of them was supposed to come here."

In the same interview, Kwast would not name the man he believed would replace Bergeson, but called him a "King Kong colonel."

The formal ceremony at which Kelly will take command of the 4th has not yet been scheduled.