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January Commander's Corner

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Roth II, 169th Force Support Squadron commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Dec. 10, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Megan Floyd/Released)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Roth II, 169th Force Support Squadron commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Dec. 10, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Megan Floyd/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- Me again? It's only been a year since my previous (Star Wars-themed) SCANG News bloviation, and everyone knows two dozen commanders are eligible for this gig. Just saying (though I'm no mathlete) it seems a bit premature for Public Affairs to task me with another 700-word column. Unless they're playfully challenging me to summon even more barely-relevant (and admittedly geeky) movie references in light of the current Star Wars hysteria. In which case ... challenge accepted.

Here, then, is an extremely-biased review of The Force Awakens not-so-cleverly disguised as a Swamp Fox "Year in Review."  

In a nutshell, 2015 was everything you'd expect for/from the 169th Fighter Wing. A fast-paced, mission-driven plot that played to the strengths of the McEntire ethos. Echoes and reiterations of the unit's legendary excellence. And, as the year ended with the bulk of our Agile Combat Support taskings teed up and a historic Theater Security Package on deck, we were left with a thrilling cliffhanger that easily rivals the excitement and anticipation of the final scene from The Empire Strikes Back.

In keeping with the hopes and expectations of the most rabid SCANG fans, the fighter wing overcame brand-new, sometimes exasperating challenges in 2015 while expertly upholding the proud heritage of the Swamp Fox. As a result, the icon's unique strengths and overall potential are perhaps more relevant than ever. Whether demonstrating warfighting expertise in Eastern Europe or standing up Domestic Operations on a bare base in Georgetown, the unit did not disappoint its legions of supporters and ultimately lived up to the hype.

Of course, this latest retelling of the clash between good and evil (whether manifesting itself as global terrorism, raging storm waters, budgetary restraints or a Darth Vader wannabe) has invited new heroes to step forward. Fresh-faced rookies who possess powers they're not yet aware of. Hotshot pilots determined to make their mark. Conscientious transfers from other units who bring new perspective to old battles. Clearly, one of the best things about the SCANG is its ability to capitalize on new blood, to integrate, develop and promote its next generation of leaders.  

Thankfully, these up-and-coming cast members are able to rely on a familiar cadre of "seasoned" experts to deliberately and delicately pass the torch. If the newcomers are the lifeblood of the enterprise (apologies for the mixed metaphor), our veteran performers are its backbone. Wise masters, grizzled "been-there-done-that" crusaders and their loyal wingmen. There's even a sharp-tongued, iconic female recently promoted to general (ours just happens to be a Prince instead of a princess). Plus, our decades-old fleet of (Millennium?) Falcons remain a source of comfort and confidence as new enemies emerge and battlefronts shift. Thus, our ongoing saga benefits dramatically from the organic fusion of old and young, the careful blend of nostalgia and forward progress.

Because (or maybe despite) of this inspired mix, it's easy to overlook just how closely 2015 mimicked the course of years past. Still, a sense of déjà vu is irrefutable. For the most part, our antagonists are bigger, more sophisticated or somewhat craftier versions of previous foes. (I mean, come on, don't MICT and the new Air Force Inspection System look awfully familiar?) And our approach to those challenges is not dramatically changed from the strategies and tactics that yielded so much success in the past. (Hey, if it ain't broke.)

We aced another ACA inspection. Our Civil Engineers crushed another Deployment for Training. We exercised the flying surge and our rapid response to CDDAR, mass casualties and Active Shooters, opened our airfield to the U.S. Army Rangers and witnessed fairly ordinary promotions and changes of command. All the Swamp Fox touchpoints were there and, though occasionally lacking in originality, ultimately resulted in a sense of assurance rather than mundaneness.  

(Plus, there were a decent number of creative twists. Some were warm and fuzzy like our first-ever Mud Run and a KC-135 ride for our spouses. Others were altogether shocking like ... spoiler alert ... a Thousand Year Flood!)

In the end, 2015 offered something for everyone ... whether you are new to the team or a longtime enthusiast ... whether you take comfort in the familiar or revel in revelation. And, at its heart, was a consistent theme most of us can relate and/or aspire to ... being worthy of the legacy that came before you.

Happy New Year, Swamp Fox. Can't wait to see what comes next. May the Force be with you!