BANGOR, Maine — In a ceremony steeped in tradition, the leadership of the 101st Air Refueling Wing changed hands Saturday inside a cavernous hangar on the wing’s base in Bangor.
After accepting the wing’s flag, known as a guidon, Col. Douglas A. Farnham assumed command of the KC-135 air refueling wing from his predecessor, Col. John D’Errico, who had led the wing since August of 2009.
The ceremony itself was simple. After exchanging salutes and the four simple words — “Sir, I relinquish command” — D’Errico handed the guidon to Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Atkinson, assistant adjutant general and commander of the Maine Air National Guard. Atkinson then handed the flag to Farnham, who replied, “Sir, I assume command.” Upon doing so, Farnham took charge of the nearly 900 people and the 16 subordinate units assigned to the 101st Air Refueling Wing.
D’Errico has served with the Maine National Guard since 1978, and as commander of the 101st for more than three years. He will be reassigned as the chief of staff, Maine Air National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Augusta and will be promoted to brigadier general on Sunday in a private ceremony.
Farnham, who grew up in Brewer, is a 1984 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. As an instructor pilot and flight examiner in the C-21A Learjet, he served as the primary pilot for the commander, U. S. Space Command. He also was an instructor pilot at the formal training school providing initial and instructor training to USAF C-21 pilots.
Farnham joined the Maine Air National Guard in 1991. Before serving as the 101st Operations Group Commander for the past six years, he also filled the roles of squadron pilot, assistant flight Commander, flight commander, operations officer, squadron commander and chief of Wing Plans. He is a command pilot with more than 5,500 hours in the T-37, T-38, C-21 and KC-135.
Among those who looked on were hundreds of “Maineiacs,” as the wing members are known. Also looking on were Farnham’s wife, Nichi, sons Scott, 21, Carl, 18 and Gary, 13, several other family members and former Air Guard brass.
As part of Saturday ceremony, the Maineiacs’ two newest members — Ryan Denbow of St. Albans and Dylan Andrews of Bangor — were administered the enlistment oath. Farnham spoke of them during his first address as wing commander.
“Over the last few years, the term ‘the New Greatest Generation’ has become popular, and never before has so much been asked of an all-volunteer force. And as you just witnessed you continue to volunteer,” Farnham said, adding that this was why he and Chief Master Sgt. Robert Peer wanted to showcase the two newest Maineiacs — who joined the Guard despite the hardships that members have endured since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“For half of their lives, they have seen the images of the burning towers and they have seen the nation [engaged] in two wars — and they’ve also seen the opportunity to serve,” Farnham said.
“Since 9/11, over 700 of you have made the decision to enlist in the 101st and over 1,100 times you have chosen to re-enlist regardless of deployments, operations, stress on your employers and stress on your families. You choose to serve. You are the Next Greatest Generation,” he said.
Also on Saturday, the 101st received an unprecedented honor — the Meritorious Unit Award, which until now has never been bestowed on a military unit working stateside.
Notably, the 101st has been a key player in the Airbridge program, which since 2003 has provided in-air refueling for cargo planes, fighter jets and other aircraft headed across the Atlantic Ocean to military bases in Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for medical evacuation and other flights returning to U.S. soil. The 101st also coordinates in-air refueling services for bases in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania that participate in the Airbridge program.
The Bangor base is uniquely situated to perform this service because of its geographic location, Senior Master Sgt. Dan Moore noted.
“It is the first time that a Guard unit, a Air National Guard unit has received that award for its home station mission. What that means is what we’re doing here in Bangor is directly related to the combat war effort,” Moore said.
The honor, he said, is the post-9/11 equivalent of the Legion of Merit Award.
The award is presented for outstanding achievement and service in direct support of combat operations for a period of at least 90 days. The 101st’s award covers a two-year period, according to Moore.