Col. Matthew Gaetke delivers his first speech as commander of the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023.

Col. Matthew Gaetke delivers his first speech as commander of the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (Karla Parra/U.S. Air Force)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — A career F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assumed command of the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base on Wednesday after its previous commander announced he will retire early next year.

Air Force Col. Matthew Gaetke, who led the 607th Air Operations Center about 80 miles to the north at Osan Air Base, assumed command of the wing in a ceremony closed to the media at an aircraft hangar on the base, according to footage uploaded to the wing’s Facebook page Wednesday.

As commander, Gaetke takes charge of the wing’s roughly 3,200 U.S. service members and Defense Department civilian employees, as well about 30 F-16s.

Gaetke served as flight commander of Kunsan’s 35th Fighter Squadron in 2007. In a short speech during the ceremony, he described being back at the base as a “circle of completion.”

Commissioned in 2001 through ROTC, Gaetke graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has accumulated 1,900 hours in the F-16, including 600 combat hours. Prior to his tour at Osan, he was the Air Force liaison to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

His wife, Col. Kathryn Gaetke, relieved him June 14 as commander of the 51st Operations Group at Osan.

The previous wing commander, Col. Timothy Murphy, announced he will retire early on Feb. 1 “solely due to family reasons,” the 7th Air Force said in a news release Oct. 31.

Murphy began the retirement process and departed South Korea for the United States, 7th Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Rachel Buitrago told Stars and Stripes in a text message Wednesday.

She declined to provide further information on Murphy’s status.

Murphy — a career F-16 pilot with over 2,000 flight hours during his 22 years of military service — had commanded the wing since May.

Gaetke, addressing Murphy in his speech, said he was “honored and humbled to try to follow in your footsteps.”

“You are in our thoughts and prayers,” he said.

Seventh Air Force commander Lt. Gen Scott Pleus also thanked Murphy, his wife Courtney and their seven children for their service.

“To all the Murphy family, thank you,” Pleus said in a speech at the ceremony. “Thank you for your support and the many sacrifices you have made in service to our nation.”

The 8th Fighter Wing regularly conducts aerial exercises in and around the Korean Peninsula. On Oct. 22, F-16s from the wing flew alongside South Korean and Japanese fighter jets in the countries’ first trilateral air drills.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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