Change in command at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

Col. Neil R. Richardson, 374th Airlift Wing vice commander, posed for a picture before his “fini” flight April 12, 2017, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Donald Hudson)

Col. Frederick D. Thaden will relinquish command of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the 87th Air Base Wing to Col. Neil R. Richardson today at a ceremony to be marked by a joint color guard, formation of service members, and music provided by a live military band.

Thaden, the departing commander, has provided support to more than 80 mission partners at the Defense Department’s only tri-service joint base.

He was also responsible for providing mission-ready expeditionary Airmen and Sailors to combatant commanders in support of joint and coalition operations.

Thaden was commissioned in 1991 as a graduate of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Brigham Young University.

The colonel’s assignments include duties as a behavioral scientist, social actions chief, manning division chief, squadron commander and as vice commander at the wing level.

He served at Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Lajes Field, Azores; Stuttgart, Germany; Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, among others. He is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, the Air Command and Staff College and the National War College.

Thaden is a veteran of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Joint Forge and Joint Guardian. Prior to assuming command of the Joint Base and 87th ABW, the colonel served as the director of Manpower, Personnel and Services, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Thaden is married and has seven children and eight grandchildren.

 

On April 12, 2017, Richardson took his final flight as a crew member on a C-130H before leaving Yokota Air Base to become commander of the 87th Air Base Wing at New Jersey’s sprawling military complex.

The “fini” flight is an Air Force tradition dating back to WWII, and is a celebration of aircrew members upon their final flight before moving to a new base or retiring. Normally after landing they are greeted by family and friends where they are sprayed with water and congratulated after stepping out of the aircraft.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Richardson. “Knowing that I’m one of the last navigators to fly active duty on a C-130H, I felt very privileged to have the opportunity.”

Not only was this Richardson’s final flight but it is part of the last flights the C-130H will be making as part of the active duty component in the Air Force. The flight also functioned as a training exercise for low altitude mountain flying and mass container delivery system bundle drop.

“It was surreal as we flew into the mountain range and dropped the cargo with Mt. Fuji right there in front of us,” said Richardson. “They couldn’t have planned or executed a better fini flight for me.”

Richardson’s “fini” flight was also unique because he has never had one before due to various circumstances, and the aircrew was made up of Airmen he had flown with before throughout his 22 year Air Force career. Normally Air Force officers experience the tradition each time they leave a base or when one retires.

“For me this flight was more about spending time with those people that I deeply respect,” said Richardson. “The pilot, engineer, loadmaster and instructor navigator were people that I’ve flown with previously in my career and it was great to spend my last flight with them.”

While Richardson pushes for excellence, innovative thinking and dedication, above all he values the people and relationships that have been made over the years and during his time at Yokota.

“We have made some great friendships here with our Japanese partners on base and in the local community,” said Richardson. “We are going to miss the food and the ability to travel through the area, but all that is secondary to the people.”

Yokota was a place Richardson wanted to come for over 20 years, and in 2015 his dream came true. During Richardson’s time in the Air Force he has seen and been a part of various missions around the globe from Europe and Africa to Iraq; but one of his most fond Air Force experiences was Operation Christmas Drop.

Starting in 1952, Operation Christmas Drop is the longest running air drop mission in the world. The mission supplies humanitarian aid and Christmas presents to small isolated Pacific island communities.

“To see the impact that we have on those people from the 56 different islands is amazing,” said Richardson. “While the flying over beautiful islands is wonderful, it’s knowing that you’ve made an impact on someone’s life that makes it really special.”

The Richardson family has made the most of Japan during their time at Yokota and are thankful for the friends they made through the Ome Friendship Group.

The Ome Friendship Group is part of a larger Yokota Friendship Club with the focus to promote peace and international goodwill by cultivating friendship and deepening mutual understanding through cultural exchanges between Japanese and U.S. citizens.

According to Richardson Yokota has over 32 different partners on base and many others off base; it is their dedication to the mission and ability to get things done that continually amazes him and makes team Yokota outstanding.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who is a part of this base,” said Richardson. “Whether you’re an Airman, Solder, Sailor, Marine or civilian, I will miss you and dearly wish you all the best in your future endeavors.”

With his departure of Yokota Richardson has a last bit of advice that applies to anyone, not just Yokota personnel.

“Take it day by day, be innovative and continue to make where you are the place you want it to be,” said Richardson. “And regardless of where you are in your career or what job you have, grow where you’re planted, do your very best and good things will come from that.”

Before Col. Kenneth E. Moss, 374th Airlift Wing commander, came to Yokota he had previously worked with Richardson in Germany where they flew C-130s together.

“I was really excited to work with him again, especially in this place, on this mission and at this level,” said Moss. “It has been everything I thought it would be; he is the consummate professional, a fun person to be around, an outstanding confidant, guide and he has been absolutely a great friend.”

While Richardson will miss Yokota and the friendships he and his family has made, he is looking forward to his next assignment at JB MDL. Although it is a different group of people with a different mission, Richardson enjoys working with Airmen no matter where he is.

“I’ve grown fond of leading and being around Airmen, we all have that mindset of getting things done with excellence as the cornerstone,” said Richardson. “I’m looking forward to getting in the trenches and executing that new mission with the men and women at JB MDL.

“His influence on the wing and the mood of the community has been behind the scenes and subtle, but pervasive,” said Moss. “I really like what he has done and the tone he has established, it’s really inspiring watching him work.”

According to Moss the opportunities to command in the Air Force are few and far between and are not taken lightly. And that JB MDL is getting an outstanding commander that knows what is important and how to take care of Airmen and the mission.

“Richardson is going nowhere but up,” said Moss. “I count it as a great privilege and honor to have served with him and I look forward to serving alongside him again.”

After 22 years of operational flying in the Air Force, Richardson touched down at Yokota and ended his final flight. As the aircrew taxied the plane through a water salute, Richardson saw his family waiting for him and his youngest son Gage guiding in the plane to park.

“I was very teary eyed, and to have them share that moment with me was incredible,” said Richardson. “To see my eight year old son out there with his flight suit and flight cap on and he was getting ready to marshal in the plane, it will be something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

 

 

 


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