News: Texas Air Guard bids farewell to Intel’s 'best of the best'
Story by Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain
SAN ANGELO, Texas - The commander of the Texas Air National Guard’s 217th Intelligence Training Squadron, located at nearby Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, relinquished command of the squadron during a ceremony that also marked the squadron’s inactivation as a unit here, Sept. 7, 2013. The 217th is a geographically separated unit of the 149th Fighter Wing, which is headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas.
In a traditional military ceremony, Lt. Col. James Marrs, the squadron’s commander, handed the unit’s flag to Col. John F. Kane, the wing’s commander, who then handed it to Command Chief Master Sgt. George B. Longoria, from the wing, before it was “cased” by the squadron’s Chief Master Sgt. Pedro Tambunga.
The ceremony was held at San Angelo’s historic Fort Concho and the attendees included: current and former members of the unit, state and federal military officials, and local residents and business owners.
The squadron’s inactivation was ordered by the secretary of the Air Force, at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., to be effective Oct. 1, 2013. The decision was part of a broad force-restructuring package implemented by the Department of Defense.
“Our mission was to source, from throughout the Total Force, operationally experienced personnel and fully qualify them as Air Education and Training Command instructors,” Marrs said. “In addition, our guardsmen maintained the highest-possible level of readiness to accomplish the Defense Support to Civil Authorities Incident Awareness mission, when directed by the governor.”
Not just trained and ready, service members from the squadron were called out by the state on multiple occasions.
“From your service to the people of Texas during Hurricane Ike to your border security missions, the 217th has been instrumental to operations in the Lone Star State and beyond,” Gov. Rick Perry wrote to the members of the squadron. “I hope that you will remember the excellence with which you performed your duties and the lasting importance of the training you gave your fellow service members.”
During his speech, Marrs discussed the professionalism and performance of the unit’s members.
“In the six years of our existence as a squadron, the 50 full-time instructors of the 217th have taught over 94,000 hours – that’s 50 percent more, on average, than their active-duty counterparts – and directly instructed and mentored over 15,700 Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance students,” said Marrs, who was the squadron’s only commander during their period of activation. “Students who currently represent the backbone of our active duty, guard and reserve intelligence forces. Quite a legacy.”
“The level of award-winning production achieved by the 217th is unprecedented for an organization of this size,” Marrs said. “Members of the 217th have won local and state-level recognition at a higher per-capita rate than any other organization in the Texas Air National Guard during the last six years.”
A senior, federal Air National Guard official shared the commander’s sentiment.
“Since their federal recognition in 2009, the small cadre of 75 Air Guard Airmen represented the best of the best in the Intelligence community,” Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clark III, director of the Air National Guard, in Arlington, Va., wrote in a letter to Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas and commanding general of the Texas Military Forces.
Nichols, a state official appointed by the governor, was on-hand and discussed the unit’s short span of existence and it’s long-term legacy to the nation.
The 217th is “our shining star,” Nichols said. “This is a tough time. We never thought it was going to end as fast as it did.”
“Thank you for what you’ve done,” he said. “You make America better. You’ve trained great airmen and they’re out making America safer, today. Without you, we wouldn’t be as safe as we are – that’s a fact for all to know. We won’t forget.”
Another senior officer compared the squadron’s service during the past decade to units that were temporarily raised during the middle of the previous century.
“This unit has done an outstanding job in a wartime service,” said Brig. Gen. Kenneth W. Wisian, Texas’ deputy adjutant general for air and commander of the Texas Air National Guard. “Very much in the tradition of the hundreds of units that were stood up for a brief time, during World War II.”
“It was a call of citizen-airmen to answer the needs of the nation,” Wisian said.
The state has worked with the airmen to prepare them for their transition from the squadron.
Marrs spent much of the past year focused and working with Texas ANG officials to take care of the airmen he’s led, said Brig. Gen. Brian C. Newby, deputy commander of the Texas Air National Guard.
“My feeling – at least up to this point – is we’ve done our best to try to make sure we have found a place for each and every one of our folks,” Newby said, “whether they’re retiring and we can honor them, whether there are new assignments they need to move on to, we want to make sure they remember their time here at the 217th.”
Marrs beamed with pride when he discussed the men and women he led as the squadron’s commander.
“There will likely never be another team like the one assembled under the banner of the 217th,” Marrs said. “I am honored to have served with this team – through both feast and famine.”
Marrs retired from military service in a ceremony, which followed the inactivation of the squadron he led from its inception. He served nearly 30 years to the state and nation, and said he and his wife plan to remain in San Angelo.
“It’s been a challenging and rewarding journey,” Marrs said.