08/29/08 — 4th Fighter Wing chief Col. Steve Kwast takes final flight as commander

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4th Fighter Wing chief Col. Steve Kwast takes final flight as commander

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 29, 2008 1:39 PM

Joni Kwast had been there before -- standing in a hangar surrounded by family and friends, waiting for her husband to guide his F-15E Strike Eagle back to the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base flight line.

But as she walked through the crowd of fighter pilots and community members gathered there Thursday, it was obvious that this was a different feeling than the one that overcame her nearly two decades ago.

News-Argus Video Report

Col. Steve Kwast was not coming home from Operation Desert Storm as he did in the early 1990s.

This time, the 4th Fighter Wing commander was saying goodbye.

Kwast took his final flight as commander of the wing just more than a week before he will stand down from the post.

He will pass the flag to Col. Mark Kelly, a former commander of the 333rd Fighter Squadron, Sept. 9.

The word "bittersweet" echoed through the hangar as Kwast hurried down the stairs leading from the cockpit.

Even he was not quite ready.

Kwast Final Flight

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base commander Col. Steve Kwast gives a thumbs up to the crowd gathered at the landing of Kwast's final flight as commander of the Air Force base Thursday afternoon.

He ducked and ran from the spray of hoses that accompanies a "fini-flight" -- running, first, to his daughter, Lilly, for a quick kiss, then to his son, Keegan, for a hug.

Then, Joni added to the shower with a bottle of champagne.

The colonel was ready.

He ran toward the airmen holding those hoses and soaked in the moment.

The Sept. 9 ceremony is scheduled for a 9:04 a.m. start.

Kelly, a command pilot, 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.