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U.S. Air Force Col. J.R. Smith took charge last week of a new air base group that will be an advocate for small, geographically separated bases in England and Norway.

The 420th Air Base Group is based at RAF Fairford in western England, home of the 424th Air Base Squadron.

Smith’s command also includes the 422nd Air Base Squadron at RAF Croughton, England, and the 423rd Air Base Squadron at RAF Alconbury, England, which includes RAF Molesworth and RAF Upwood. The 426th Air Base Squadron in Stavanger, Norway, also falls under the umbrella of the new group.

Until now, they all were under the command of the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall.

“The senior leadership there, including Colonel Richard Devereaux, has done a good job,” Smith said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “At the same time, he’s got a big wing of tankers to take care of.”

He said the need for the new air base group was obvious during the war with Iraq, when more than 2,000 people and 14 B-52 bombers arrived at RAF Fairford. At the same time, the tankers from RAF Mildenhall were deployed in support of the war, giving the 100th ARW a very full plate.

It was determined that a new group commanded by a colonel could better look after the interests of the geographically separated units in several respects, from operations and quality of life to host nation issues.

“You can have somebody focus full attention on the needs of the GSUs,” said Smith, who comes to the job from U.S. Air Forces in Europe at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

RAF Mildenhall will still provide much of the support, Smith said. For example, the personnel records of the people at the GSUs will remain with the 100th Mission Support Squadron.

The new group means an increase of only seven people, counting Smith.

The first staff meeting of the new group was held Wednesday. Smith said one of the issues was the number of firefighters on hand at RAF Fairford, where the 100th ARW will soon deploy while runway construction is done at RAF Mildenhall.

Issues like that, he said, will be the focus of the 420th Air Base Group.

“It’s really looking at what are your needs on a day-to-day basis and advocating for that,” he said.

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