Air Force Col. Paul Davidson renders his first salute as commander during the 35th Fighter Wing change-of-command ceremony at Misawa Air Base, Japan, July 8, 2024.

Air Force Col. Paul Davidson renders his first salute as commander during the 35th Fighter Wing change-of-command ceremony at Misawa Air Base, Japan, July 8, 2024. (Andre Medina/U.S. Air Force)

Misawa Air Base, home to two squadrons of F-16 Fighting Falcons, welcomed a new commander Monday who’s no stranger to the base in northern Japan.

Col. Paul Davidson took command of the air base and the 35th Fighter Wing from Col. Michael Richard at a ceremony overseen by U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Ricky N. Rupp.

Davidson was stationed at Misawa from 2004 to 2007 as an electronic combat pilot and the standardization and evaluations liaison officer with the 13th Fighter Squadron.

“We’re here in a strategic location at a significant time of change in our Air Force and the world,” Davidson said at the change-of-command ceremony, according to a video posted on the base Facebook page.

“We must and we will stay focused on our mission here in northern Japan to protect, to defend, to deter aggression and, if necessary, to fight and to win,” he said.

He also promised to continue developing a culture of “warriors and leaders” that will make the Misawa community a great place to live and work.

Most recently Davidson served as deputy wing commander of the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

“His experience in joint bilateral and multilateral relationships and team building makes him the perfect fit for team Misawa legacy in relationship building and interoperability,” Rupp said during the handover ceremony, according to the video.

Richard will become the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command deputy chief of staff at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, according to a 35th Fighter Wing news release Tuesday.

Under his watch, Misawa restored its community links after the global COVID-19 pandemic, including the resumption of popular festivals like Japan Day, American Day and Misawa Air Fest.

He steered the wing through exercises like Balikatan, Red Flag-Alaska and Keen Sword. For his efforts, Richard was awarded the Legion of Merit on Monday, according to the release.

In addition to the two F-16 squadrons, the 35th Fighter Wing includes a military community of 10,600 military, civilians and tenant units from the U.S. Space Force, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.

Misawa is the only U.S. air base in the Pacific shared with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and in use as a commercial airport, Rupp said.

The wing at Misawa is in line to receive 48 F-35A Lightning II fighters to replace its 36 F-16s as part of a plan announced July 3 by the Defense Department. The plan will bring more advanced fighters like the F-35A and F-15EX Eagles to Japan, according to the Pentagon. The Air Self-Defense Force has flown the Lightning II from Misawa since 2018.

Rupp emphasized the importance of the air base’s strategic location.

“It is also the closest U.S. Air Base to all three regional adversaries who have become increasingly aggressive and seek to impose their will at the expense of like-minded nations that embrace a rule-based order,” Rupp said.

Just as he did earlier in the day during a change of command at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Rupp called out China, North Korea and Russia for acts that destabilize security in the Indo Pacific.

Specifically, he said, China continues to harass its neighbors along the East and South China seas over rival territorial claims, North Korea continues to engage in outlawed ballistic missile tests and Russia, while engaged in a war with Ukraine, conducts bomber and naval patrols in the Pacific.

“Despite the regional challenges, the U.S.-Japan alliance is at its strongest point in history,” Rupp said.

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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