Nabors takes command of the 186th Air Refueling Wing

MERIDIAN — The first thing Col. Mike Nabors did when he took over command of the 186th Air Refueling Wing at Key Field was walk over to a large window in his office and gaze out over the tarmac where several KC-135 tankers sat silently awaiting their next mission.

Nabors, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard, wondered quietly what he had gotten himself into.

"I felt a pressure on me, I'm not going to lie about that," Nabors said. "But it went away a short time later when I drove through the gate the next morning and the guard handed me the newspaper saying, 'Here is your paper colonel.' I felt right then everything was going to work out fine and I was at ease."

Last weekend, Nabors was welcomed as the new commander at the G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery National Guard Complex in Meridian taking over for Col. Franklin Chalk who retired Nov. 30 after seven years at the controls.

The father of three children, Nabors was commander of flight operations for the 186th ARW and a pilot in the cockpit of the KC-135 Stratotanker prior to being tapped by Mississippi National Guard Adjutant Gen. Augustus Collins. Nabors said he is grateful for the confidence Collins has in his ability to lead the 186th ARW.

"I think the most important thing is that I'm confident in the members of the 186th ARW," Nabors said. "I understand I've been given a legacy to continue to build upon —  one left by Col. Chalk that was left to him by the previous commander. The wing has become accustomed to performing at the highest level possible. I want us to continue that winning streak."

Nabors said he has seen first-hand the type of airman that has come through the gates of the base. These are the same men and women who have taken on numerous flying missions and overcome great adversity with the loss, and then with the reacquisition of the KC-135 tanker flying mission. These are the same airmen who took an Air Force mission, the MC-12 reconnaissance program called "Project Liberty," and built it from scratch, virtually writing the manual and training the pilots and crews.

The standard is set high, thanks to the outstanding marks the wing earned in a recent USAF readiness exercise — the first tanker wing, whether it was in the guard, reserve or active duty, ever to do so.

Col. Nabors' new responsibilities will include overseeing the mission and the members of his wing, as well as recruiting new members to join the guard. Nabors will now oversee all logistics, training, personnel, and flying exercises for the entire base at Key Field. At this moment, training and getting every airman on the base up to speed on the KC-135 is the first order of the day.

"You wouldn't think that much would change in just a two year period but the tanker has changed in the systems we are used to," Nabors said. "There are new procedures and other demands. We have to be proficient in each and every one of them to maintain our high standards."

Nabors said the 186th ARW and many other National Guard units have demonstrated time and again just how valuable these personnel can be. There is no more stigma of the weekend warrior, especially after the success and readiness capabilities of the nation's National Guard was demonstrated beginning in the first Gulf War and continuing today in Afghanistan. Military leaders of the United States have come to both appreciate and count on all National Guard forces to do the missions at a high level of competency.

"We step up," Nabors said. "We answer the call and we do our jobs well."

The overall force makeup of guard units within a state will also have a future bearing on where, how, and when the 186th ARW will take off. Nabors said the new initiatives are leaning toward package deals, meaning the 186th ARW, the 172nd Airlift Wing stationed in Jackson, the 155th Brigade Combat Team scattered across the state and so forth may deploy together to augment other forces from other states. This is not even considering the special operations and smaller, tactically driven assets the armed forces have at their command.

"I really don't see any cuts or reduction of forces coming down the line for guard units, mainly because of our expertise at an economical cost," Nabors said. "We are a good deal for the military at a good price."

Also, with the reduction in the mainstream forces, Nabors said that might work in favor of the guard units such as the 186th ARW.

"There might be a bunch of pilots with thousands of hours of flying experience who may not be able to stay in the full-time positions and be looking at us as a way to stay in the air," Nabors said.

Nevertheless, Nabors said recruiting will be yet another driving force for him and the wing. He said in getting the brightest, most energetic young people to join the Air National Guard locally can work out as a positive all the way around.

"A young person can come in here and learn from veterans no matter what the job is because we are so flexible and cover so many areas," Nabors said. "They can travel, learn a great job, get paid for it and earn college scholarship funds, serve their country and their local community — the sky is the limit."

If there is one thing that nags at Nabors it is the fact in a few years those military leaders who have come to know the 186th ARW well will be retiring. He is somewhat apprehensive that the hard work all these years by the men and women of the 186th ARW will be forgotten. He said he will work hard to keep the 186th ARW in the sights of those who make the decisions.

"I think those who live in Lauderdale County and Meridian get used to seeing us flying around and that leads to our being taken for granted," Nabors said. "No mission is forever and we have to keep on our toes in terms of letting people know we are valuable to the community, the state and the nation. I intend on keeping us on the front page."

As Nabors stated later, the wing has missions scheduled all across the globe. The big gray tankers of the 186th ARW will be flying in and out of Meridian throughout 2014 and on board will be local men and women who live, raise families, and shop in Meridian. They are, Nabors likes to say, local heroes that no one knows about. But it is his intention to change that in the coming years as commander of the wing.

"These are small town people who are proud to serve their country," Nabors said. "Many of them have done things, brave things, that no one knows about. To those who live here they are just everyday people. But they do extraordinary things."

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