A Time of Transition

Last commander of Joint Base Balad departs

by Senior Airman Amber R. Kelly-Herard, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

A command that began 14 months ago concluded with transitioning the second largest U.S. base in Iraq to the Iraqi government.

Brig. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander and the final commander of Joint Base Balad, relinquished command of the base during a ceremony Dec. 4.

“My first feeling was of gratitude for the privilege of wing command again,” said Neubauer, who took command in October of 2010. “The second was the challenge of facing the unknown of accomplishing the mission from Balad while effectively shutting down a base the size of Charlottesville, Va.”

The general took command and helped transfer Balad to the government of Iraq.

“I’m very proud of what our wing accomplished and the experience of command in (U.S. Central Command) has been profound, both professionally and personally,” Neubauer said. “I will greatly miss serving with the (332nd AEW Airmen), but I’m anxious to be reunited with my family and go on to our next assignment in Korea.”

After returning home to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Neubauer will serve as 7th Air Force vice commander at Osan Air Base, Korea.

Along the way, Neubauer said he has gained many memories of the 332nd AEW.

“There are so many memories. For example, flying that last combat sortie from Balad,” he said. “Other things that come to mind are personnel rotations. You get attached to people after serving with them. Watching squadron and group commanders turn over (command), or seeing my command chief leave, those are bittersweet memories.”

The general also highlighted transferring the air control and C-130 Hercules squadrons and standing up detachments for the MQ-1 Predator and MC-12 squadrons as unforgettable events.

“The last very vivid memory is seeing (Balad) fade from the view of our C-130 after we signed the base over to the Iraqi air force,” he said. “That memory will stay with me for a long while.”

The general said his command was not always easy.

“Our biggest challenge was getting the mission done — defending the base, providing top cover for U.S. Forces-Iraq and assisting our Iraqi hosts — while simultaneously drawing down our Airmen and equipment,” Neubauer said. “That was a real test, and I couldn’t be more proud of the leadership, stamina, strength and agility of our 332nd AEW group and squadron commanders. They did a Herculean job balancing those divergent mission tasks.”

Despite the challenges, the 332nd AEW succeeded.

“My most rewarding experience is not losing anybody through the course of 14 months,” he said. “In spite of the fact that we were under significant indirect fire threat, and things got a little hairy as personnel and equipment thinned out, we went in this thing together and we came through the other side together.”

Neubauer praised the accomplishments of the Airmen of the 332nd AEW.

“I think everybody has a lot to be proud of,” he said. “They may not realize how important their role is and continues to be in this part of the world, but let there be no doubt that what they did has been righteous and worthy work. It’s something they should be proud of, and more importantly, they shouldn’t be bashful about telling their families and their fellow citizens back home what they did here.

“Finally, I’d ask them to understand that they added to the heritage and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen,” he continued. “The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is about character. Like (the original Tuskgegee Airmen) in the ‘40s, our Airmen revealed their character by the way they handled the adversity of accomplishing the mission, protecting the force, preparing for the future and transitioning the base to the Iraqis. They should be very proud of themselves for that.”

Although Neubauer is leaving the 332nd AEW, he said he will take the lessons he learned with him.

“Regardless of what rank or what position an Airman serves in, everybody can be inspirational,” Neubauer said. “You just have to unlock their potential, and each one of us has talents and gifts in different measure. Those talents and gifts can inspire other Airmen. That inspiration creates belief, and belief is powerful. I’m talking about belief in the mission, belief in each other and belief in ourselves because once you create belief, you release other virtues — virtues like trust, virtues like loyalty. When you have belief, trust and loyalty, you get action that is unstoppable.

“Regardless of proximity to the flightline or the badge above your U.S. Air Force tape on the (Airman Battle Uniform), regardless of how many stripes on your sleeve or brass on your collar, every single Airman can inspire,” he continued. “All we have to do is look at our Red Tail heritage and think of American Airmen like Benjamin O. Davis or Lee Archer. Although they’re gone, they still inspire us today.”

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