For Col. Donn C. Yates, assuming command of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's 4th Fighter Wing was like a homecoming.
Yates was previously stationed at the base in 1999 for F-15E Strike Eagle pilot training, 2003-2005 as an instructor pilot, mission commander, weapons flight commander, chief of weapons and tactics with the 335th Fighter Squadron, 2005-2006 as wing chief of weapons and tactics in 4th Operations Support Squadron, 2012-2013 director of operations, 335th Fighter Squadron and 2013-2015, commander, 334th Fighter Squadron.
He was most recently commander, 48th Operations Group at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
Maj. Gen. Scott Zobrist, 9th Air Force commander at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, who presided over the Tuesday morning change-of-command ceremony, welcomed Yates and his family back to the base, adding that he knows the community is excited to have them back.
"Seems like yesterday that we were packing up the family to get here," Yates said. "We had no idea that summer three years ago we would be back so soon.
"But it truly feels wonderful to be here in Goldsboro, home amongst friends and family despite the heat and humidity. But I will say this, you don't know how much you miss it until you live in England for two years."
During his career, Yates supported Operations Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, Freedom's Sentinel, New Dawn, Octave Fusion, Noble Eagle and Resolute Support.
He has logged more than 2,200 flight hours.
During the ceremony, Col. Christopher S. Sage, commander of the 4th Fighter Wing since June of 2016, relinquished command to Yates -- signaled by the passing of the guidon.
Sage will assume his new position of senior special assistant to the commander, United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, at the U.S. European Command headquarters, in Mons, Belgium.
Also during the ceremony Sage was presented the Legion of Merit first oak leaf cluster.
Yates thanked everyone for attending and celebrating a life-changing event for "Team Yates."
"We are humbled beyond words," Yates said. "It isn't often that I am able to see this many people who are important to me, close friends, all in one location.
"I see a lot of faces I recognize -- too many to call out, with many memories from the past 20 years. Your presence makes the day even more special."
Yates said he also wanted to recognize a very special guest -- his oldest son, an airman first class who was standing in formation as a guest.
"It means a lot to me that you are here representing three generations," Yates said. "Your mom and I are super proud of you. You inspire me to no end. You give me hope for the future.
"Finally, to the men and women of the 4th Fighter Wing, Maggie (his wife) and I can't wait to meet all of you. Both of us will work tirelessly to provide adaptive and transformational leadership every day for the people and the mission of this command.
"In return, I ask that you continue the legacy of integrity, service and excellence of the great 4th Fighter Wing, our unit, and all of its contributions to global security."
The last two years of accomplishments at the base have been amazing, Zobrist said.
Those accomplishments include deployments, new base facilities, including a new clinic, Kitty Hawk playground and a list of other buildings that are either new or have been modified, he said.
"I have watched as the airmen and families have gotten connected to themselves as a community, but also to the broader Goldsboro and Wayne County communities," Zobrist said.
Zobrist praised the Make it Better clubs, Team Seymour Speaker Series and the Adopt an Airman programs.
He thanked the local community for making those happen.
"The 4th Fighter Wing in the local community has influenced every Strike Eagle aviator for the last 20 plus years," he said. "So when you look around the world at those flying the Strike Eagle, everyone here can pat themselves on the back because it takes a whole team to make that happen."
But that team has to be coached and mentored, and that is exactly what Sage did, he said.
"You have led with passion, with courage, with compassion, especially for the families and the airmen of the 4th Fighter Wing," Zobrist said. "You can leave knowing that you have taken the 4th Fighter Wing to the next level.
"You have taken the relationship with the community to the next level."
Zobrist said he doesn't normally like to single out communities when it comes to support for an Air Force base.
"Please don't tell the other communities, but I am going to single you guys out for the great support that you give to the airmen, civilians and all of their families here at Seymour Johnson," he said. "You guys are certainly in the top ... it is really high at the top part of that.
"To the men and women of the 4th Fighter Wing, thanks for what you do every day. You execute the mission, and you execute brilliantly. You take care of people. You take care of the families."
Sage's wife and family have had much to do with his success, Zobrist said.
She sought to understand a problem instead of just putting a Band-Aid on it, he said.
"You wanted to understand what the airmen and their families were going through so that you could actually fix the problem," Zobrist said. "You were really good at connecting spouses and families to each other and to the community at large."
She has set an example for future leadership spouses, he said.
"D.C., I look forward to watching you take the wing to bigger and better things and heights the next two years," Zobrist said.
In his comments, Sage thanked his family and local, state and federal leadership, joking that Goldsboro Mayor Chuck Allen has him on speed dial and that together great accomplishments have been made over the past two years.
Sage said that early in his command, his wife, Jessica, had given him some sound advice.
"She said that everything that we try to do here as a team on the base with the spouses needs to be three things," Sage said. "It doesn't need to be about us. It needs to be about the team. No. 2, it needs to add value to the airmen and their families, and No. 3, it must be sustainable.
"When I come down off the mountaintop, hopefully, everyone else stays, right? That's the idea. She said if it is a good idea, no matter who created it, it is going to last."
He recognized his parents, aunt and uncle, and his grandmother, who turned 93 Monday night, all of whom were at the ceremony.
Sage said he was blessed to be wing commander of an awesome team and to be part of the great Americans standing before him.
The local community is world famous because of the support and generosity it gives to the base, Sage said.
The base also makes sure families are well cared for, as it takes care of the nation's business, he said.
Sage spoke of a new project that brought lights and power to the flight line as well as a coffee shop and other accomplishments over the past two years.
"Team Seymour, we have done all of this together," Sage said. "It's what we have done together, no one individually, but what we have done together as a team. There is no better leader to take the baton than Col. D.C. Yates."
At times it feels like a sprint, but it is really more like a marathon, Sage said.
And Yates is the leader that the base needs to keep pace as it moves forward, Sage said.
"God speed D.C., and I have no doubt you will take Team Seymour to the next level," he said. "It is an amazing group of airmen that stands before me.
"Team Seymour, continue to lead with courage as you strive to be the combat wing of choice because you are and continue to take dominant Strike Eagle airpower anytime, anywhere."