Colonel takes over 86th Airlift Wing
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Col. William J. Bender assumed control of the 86th Airlift Wing on Wednesday during a change of command at Ramstein Air Base, where airmen gathered for a ceremony of traditional military pomp.
Bender, whose new job also includes command of the Kaiserslautern military community, replaced Brig. Gen. Richard C. Johnston, who held the post for nearly two years. Johnston will now serve as director of plans and programs for U.S. Air Forces Europe.
“Colonel Bender, you’re inheriting a well-trained, well-disciplined wing,” Johnston told the incoming commander during the ceremony.
Bender, a command pilot with more than 4,000 flight hours, previously served as executive officer to the deputy commander of the European Command in Stuttgart. Before that, Bender commanded the 319th Air Refueling Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
“I am absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity to command this great wing,” Bender said.
The ceremony was attended by a host of German and military dignitaries, including Gen. William E. Ward, whom Bender worked under at EUCOM.
For Bender, the new position means he will lead a wing of four groups, 16 squadrons and three bases in Germany, Spain and Belgium.
Bender said his goal is to press forward with the progress achieved during Johnston’s tenure as commander of both the 86th and the Kaiserslautern Military Community, home to some 53,000 Americans.
The 86th Airlift Wing conducts a variety of airlift, airdrop and evacuation operations in support of humanitarian efforts around the world and the wars in the Mideast.
Bender said his goal is to maximize resources during a time of tightening budgets.
“I will do all I can to marshal the wing’s reserves,” Bender said. “Especially at a time when our nation is at war.”
Delivering needed supplies to war zone commanders will continue to be the primary mission, he said.
“Our mission, the reason we exist, is to support the war-fighting commander,” Bender said.
During his speech, Bender talked about the sacrifices of war and the economic burden on the nation, such as a mounting debt and falling dollar. However, the sacrifices are necessary, he said.
“I ask you to consider what is really at stake. To answer my own rhetorical question: Everything,” Bender told his airmen.