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Always in a team

American commander takes helm again at Heavy Airlift Wing after two years

Text: Gábor Kálmánfi | Photo: Photos by the authors |  10:54 June 27, 2023

On 22 June, during a Change of Command ceremony held on the Hungarian Defence Forces 47th Air Base in Pápa, Colonel Peter Söderström, the first Swedish commander of the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW) passed over command to American Colonel Jason Mills.

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The Strategic Airlift Wing (SAC) has achieved a number of milestones during Colonel Söderström’s command. The list includes, among others, providing life-saving airlift to Turkey after the devastating earthquake in early 2023, and the evacuation of 2300 people from Kabul, Afghanistan in 2021.

“As it was getting dark, I sat in the cockpit on the ground in Kabul watching the numerous tracers painting the sky with horizontal red colors thinking; this is it; this is why we have the equipment we have and why we do the training we do. Despite the risk of small arms fire or ground attacks, we extended ground time as long as possible for the maximum number of passengers to board. None of you hesitated to complete your missions, I was so impressed. Ladies and gentlemen this is how this program works”, said Colonel Söderström about the 2021 Kabul airlift. He added that the HAW, which is stationed in Pápa, has always achieved its successes through excellent teamwork.

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His successor, Colonel Jason Mills, is the fifth American commander in the 14-year history of the program, after serving as vice-commander of the SAC for two years.

“We are strong because of our diversity of background and experiences, agile in our ability to support not just local, but global crises and we are put at this place and time to care not just for each other, but for the struggles and challenges of our Nations and the world. Thank you for your support and devotion to this program and I look forward to our coming successes – the world will not stop turning because we are here today so let’s get back to work” – this was how the colonel addressed his subordinates on the first day of commanding the Heavy Airlift Wing.

At the ceremony, Colonel Ferenc Könczöl, Senior Desk Officer, HDF Air Force Command presented a Service Medal to the outgoing commander.

The change of command takes place every two years in the Heavy Airlift Wing, the SAC’s operative arm. In the multinational spirit of the organization, no two successive commanders are of the same nationality.