Portland Air National Guard Base welcomes new commander

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Oregon Air National Guardsmen assembled for the 142nd Fighter Wing change of command ceremony here Feb. 7, 2015.

Col. Paul T. Fitzgerald took command during a traditional ceremony as the colors were passed from Col. Richard W. Wedan, who retired after more than 27 years of service to the Air National Guard.

Col. Fitzgerald most recently served as the 142nd Fighter Wing Vice Commander for five months and held a prior assignment as the 142nd Fighter Wing Mission Support Group commander. He is a command pilot with more than 2,200 flying hours.

Ceremony attendees included the presiding officer, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel R. Hokansen, The Adjutant General, Oregon, and U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael E. Stencel, Oregon Air National Guard commander, the men and women of the 142nd Fighter Wing, as well as the friends and family of Fitzgerald and Wedan.

"I am humbled, honored and truly blessed to be standing here today as your commander," said Fitzgerald during his opening remarks. "Call me biased, but I don't think there is a better place to work or raise a family in the entire world than right here at the 142nd Fighter Wing."

Fitzgerald began his military career as a cadet at the United Stated Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and received his commission after graduating in 1990. Upon completing initial pilot training with the F-15 Eagle at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, his first operational tour began at Kadena Air Force Base, Japan, in 1995. 

It was in Japan that he met his wife, Vanessa, and the couple has since welcomed three children: Olivia, Ryan and Gavin.

During his remarks to the Airmen and those in attendance, Fitzgerald emphasized his vision for the future. "It starts and ends with providing the state and nation with the most highly qualified forces possible to the commander in the field."

He also touched on four emphasis areas to include; leadership, looking for ways to improve the organization, managing resources and executing the Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) mission.

With regards to personal development, Fitzgerald described the challenges of "being the very best that you can be."  He elaborated on this concept of comprehensive Airman fitness encapsulate by Air Combat Command, saying, "I want our leaders to reach their full potential - beginning with physical fitness, mental readiness, understanding the social aspects of working in a large organization like our wing and addressing one's own spiritual needs."

During the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Stencel described Fitzgerald's attributes and service to the Air Force that have led up to his selection as the next wing commander.
"Having worked in Operations, Maintenance, and the Support Group, Col. Fitzgerald brings an enviable appreciation for the pulse of a fighter wing," he said.

In 2009, Fitzgerald was selected for the Air National Guard internship program where he served as a member of the Plans and Programs Director at the National Guard Bureau (NGB) in Washington, D.C.  After his tour at NGB, he returned to Oregon and was assigned to a variety of state positions before returning to the wing three years ago.

"What do you say about a guy who wears wings and is willing to take them off for a while to better himself and serve on different levels? I know there is no more balanced or better prepared individual to lead this organization," said Stencel.

As Fitzgerald assumed command, Col. Wedan had the opportunity to pass and review his Airman one final time, and delivered his gratitude for their service to the Air Force. Maj. Gen. Hokansen also presented The Legion of Merit Medal for Wedan's service to the nation.

"It was only 26 months ago that I stood here and asked you to join me and embrace a vision of change and excellence," said Wedan.

Reviewing his four focus areas throughout the course of his command, Wedan delivered the final grades for his Airmen. The report card included evaluations for the wing's performance in the ACA mission, improving the air base infrastructure, engaging in the community and retention and recruiting. In each case, Wedan awarded the wing with an "A+."

In his concluding remarks, Wedan highlighted why Fitzgerald is distinctively ready for taking command of the 142nd Fighter Wing: "I cannot think of a finer officer to lead going forward...Paul, I present to you the finest combat organization in the world."