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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Brig. Gen. Scott J. Zobrist, whose tenure as 31st Fighter Wing commander was marked by the unit’s contributions to NATO operations in Libya, relinquished command at a ceremony Thursday.

Zobrist turned over command to Brig. Gen. Jon A. Norman, an F-16 pilot, who was most recently director to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe-United Kingdom, a liaison position to the British government.

The ceremony was presided over by Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of Third Air Force and a former commander at Aviano.

Franklin was the convening authority in the sexual assault case against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general for the wing. His subsequent decision to overturn Wilkerson’s conviction and reinstate him into the Air Force caused outrage on Capitol Hill, where a number of lawmakers are pushing to take those decisions out of the chain of command.

Speeches at Thursday’s ceremony focused on the wing’s achievements, particularly regarding its role in NATO’s bombardment of Libya in 2011. Aviano was the home of eight fighter squadrons during the operation.

Zobrist, whose next assignment is director of requirements for the Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., was lauded by Franklin for the wing’s credits under his command.

The unit’s maintenance group has been named best in the Air Force the past two years, F-16s and their crews have deployed to support operations in Afghanistan and personnel traveled to Bulgaria for one of the largest exercises in USAFE history.

“This wing is also the Department of Defense’s most inspected unit,” Franklin said, and an award citation for Zobrist noted several high marks for those inspections.

“You’ve made this a more difficult job,” Norman said to Zobrist, noting that fixing a unit with problems was often easier than trying to maintain or raise standards with one that was performing at top level.

Norman, a command pilot with more than 3,300 hours in the F-16 and AT-38, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1986 and was honored as a distinguished graduate during F-16 training. He commanded the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base in South Korea and served as executive officer to the Air Force chief of staff in another assignment.

He also served briefly in Italy in a joint task force responsible for operations in Mali headed by Army Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue, U.S. Army Africa commander in nearby Vicenza. Donahue was among the contingent of American military leaders attending the ceremony.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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