By John Andrew Prime
The Shreveport Times
June 11, 2011
It only took four words, half the verbiage of your typical command ceremony in the U.S. military, but in a course of a few minutes, the newly minted 917th Fighter Group at Barksdale Air Force Base got its first commander, Col. John Breazeale.
"Sir, I assume command," Breazeale told his boss, Col. Eric Overturf of the 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., on Friday afternoon in front of a crowd of airmen and well-wishers at Barksdale.
The East Texas native — he hails from Gilmer, in Upshur County — returns to the area from an assignment at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where he was commander of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron in the 926th Group of the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Wing.
But before Breazeale assumed command of the unit and accepted his first salute from the formation in the group's A-10 hangar at Barksdale Air Force Base, he had one task to get out of the way.
He had to pin on some new shoulder hardware, as a "full-bird" colonel.
His wife, Karen, and their four children, ages 18 to 7, came on stage to help Overturf pin on the new silver eagles.
Following a decades-old tradition, Karen Breazeale gleefully pounded the insignia onto her husband's shoulders as he grinned and bore it.
"If you can't get fired up in a hangar like this, the flag overhead waving back and forth, two of the finest jets ever made sitting here... " he said, starting his remarks to the crowd, which included his parents, brother and other relatives from East Texas. "This gets me fired up."
He noted the reputation of his new command's component 47th Fighter Squadron, from its days as the first unit to respond to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to its record training "Warthog" pilots.
"I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead the 917th Fighter Group," he said. "We have a very proud heritage ... but we have a lot of hard work ahead of us."
Then, he used the word the pilots love to hear: "Attack!"
Breazeale, a distinguished 1988 graduate of the Air Force Academy, has more than 4,000 flying hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but he almost sheepishly admitted at the reception after his installation, he has only 20 in the A-10.
That was the only deficiency Overturf noted on the record of a pilot he described as "the kind of commander where I can be 1,000 miles away, and I can trust him to run this wing to do the right thing when nobody's looking.
"He has been around and seen the Air Force," Overturf said. "You're getting a people person as your commander. This is a good guy. Most important, I can trust him to take care of the people."
Breazeale and his unit have work to do. Already noted as the top "schoolhouse" unit to train pilots for the A-10, the group's 47th Fighter Squadron is completing the upgrade of all 21 of its airplanes to A-10C status and is transitioning to combat coding for deployment overseas early next year.
Dignitaries at the event included retired Maj. Gen. Jim Graves, a Shreveport attorney who once commanded the 47th Fighter Squadron and then was vice commander of the former 917th Wing; Col. Tim Fay, commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale's host unit; Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker, a retired Air Force colonel and pilot; and Lisa Johnson, executive director of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce.
Col. John Braezeale has his new insignia pinned on his shoulders by his wife Karen. left, and son Ryker Hall, as his boss, Col. Eric Overturf of the 442nd Fighter Wing looks on. Breazeale is the first commander of the 917th Fighter Group at Barksdale Air Force Base, where his promotion and installation took place Friday. (Photo by John Andrew Prime / The Shreveport Times
Cover of the 917th Fighter Group assumption of command program
Inside the 917th Fighter Group assumption of command program
917th Fighter Group to get commander