F-16 fighter pilot heads from Afghanistan to Spangdahlem to command 52nd Fighter Wing
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — An experienced fighter pilot who flew combat sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan is the new commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing.
Col. Jason E. Bailey will lead the sole U.S. Air Force fighter wing in Germany and more than 4,500 airmen after a change-of-command ceremony here Tuesday, where he took the mantle from Col. Joseph D. McFall.
McFall’s tenure as wing commander began in February 2015, when he was posted to the job two months after previous wing commander, Col. Peter Bilodeau, was relieved of his duties.
McFall and his family are headed to Ramstein Air Base, where he will be the vice commander of 3rd Air Force under Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, a B-1 bomber pilot who’s been on the job since last October.
“You’re a victim of your own success,” Clark said to McFall, “but you can’t complain too much because you get to stay right here in Germany. You can thank me later.”
McFall led the wing through some noteworthy milestones, including a pair of six-month deployments last year in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. The 606th Air Control Squadron and the 480th Fighter Squadron sent hundreds of airmen and F-16 jets to several locations in Southwest Asia, providing command and control to U.S. and coalition aircraft and flying close-air support missions in Iraq and Syria. The deployment coincided with preparations for the 606th’s planned move to Aviano Air Base, Italy, last year.
Acting on a dare he received before the ceremony, McFall took one last selfie with the wing’s “Saber Nation.” From the stage, he asked everyone to “lean in” before capturing a photo of himself with hundreds of uniformed airmen spread out in the hangar behind him.
“Thank you for letting me fly, that’s important,” he said to airmen. He also thanked them for finding ways to do the mission “better, cheaper, smarter and faster.”
“Every day you have left this wing better,” he said.
Like McFall, Bailey is an F-16 pilot who also has experience flying C-130s. He’s coming to Spangdahlem fresh from Afghanistan, where he commanded the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group at Bagram Air Field for one year, he said.
“It was fairly swift but I was able to get out here about a week ago, so it’s been awesome getting to know the Eifel region,” he said of the area.
Bailey said work is still underway to bring the 352nd Special Operations Group from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, a move that’s part of a sweeping reorganization of U.S. forces on the Continent.
His immediate goals, he said, include continuing to “make sure Europe is reassured and all of those who might oppose NATO are aware of the combat power that we bring.”