News: AFSOC commander presents new 352nd SOG leader
Story by Staff Sgt. Thomas Trower
RAF MILDENHALL, England – The Air Commandos of the 352nd Special Operations Group gathered July 6 in Hangar 814 here to witness a turnover of leadership at the unit's change of command ceremony.
Col. Christopher Ireland assumed command from Col. Gary McCollum during the ceremony, which was officiated by Lt. Gen. Eric E. Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command commander.
Ireland now commands the more than 700 airmen who comprise the only Air Force special operations unit in the European theater.
Ireland is a senior pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours in multiple airframes, including the MC-130 E/H Combat Talon. He comes to RAF Mildenhall following attendance as a resident student at Naval War College, Naval Station Newport, R.I. Previous to this assignment, he served as operations officer of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
"Your exploits, especially lately, have been exemplary," Ireland said of the 352nd SOG. "Your performance is legendary. There are plenty of things to do in the months ahead."
RAF Mildenhall's operations are not new to Ireland, who served as an aircraft commander and flight commander in the 7th Special Operations Squadron from October 2002 to June 2004.
The "Quiet Professionals" of the 352nd SOG remain postured to execute contingency response, joint and combined special operations, and support humanitarian and relief operations throughout Europe and elsewhere, at "any time and any place."
Its personnel are spread amongst five squadrons, all based at RAF Mildenhall, with a sub-component based in Germany. The 7th SOS employs the MC-130H Combat Talon II and the 67th Special Operations Squadron employs the MC-130P Combat Shadow. The 321st Special Tactics Squadron, a specialized unit of pararescuemen and combat controllers, also works closely with the group's special operations support and maintenance squadrons to project airpower when and where it’s needed. The group’s latest editions will include the CV-22 Osprey and MC-130J Commando II which will call RAF Mildenhall home in the coming years.
After serving in the 352nd SOG since 2008, first as the deputy commander and the last two years as commander, McCollum leaves RAF Mildenhall for his new assignment at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
"I leave with you an amazing and incredibly capable unit," said McCollum to Ireland.
As the 352nd SOG commander, Ireland also serves as Joint Special Operations Air Component-Europe commander, responsible for command and control of all U.S. special operations airpower within the European Command theater of operations.