125th Fighter Wing hails new commander

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. William Buchanan
  • 125th Fighter Wing

U.S. Air Force Col. George H. H. Downs assumed command of the 125th Fighter Wing during a change of command ceremony on February 6, 2022 at Jacksonville IAP. Downs accepted the role from the previous 125th FW Commander Col. Matthew J. French in front of servicemembers, family and friends, and distinguished guests.

“To my friend and brother-in-arms, Col. George “Strike” Downs, thank you,” French said. “Thank you for answering the call to lead the 125th Fighter Wing. I know of no other person who is more dedicated and passionate about the mission and taking care of the people who serve with you.”

French relinquished his command by surrendering the unit flag to the Assistant Adjutant General-Air, and the Commander, Florida Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Michael A. Valle, as part of the traditional passing of the colors. Valle then passed the colors on to Downs, signifying his acceptance of the new position and assumption of command.

“A unit’s organizational color embodies the heart, soul, lineage and esprit de corps of the organization,” said Maj. Joseph G. Pasko, the master of ceremonies, “and serves as the prominent symbol of the organization during the change of command ceremony.”

Historically, the colors of a unit were kept at the commander’s side and carried forward into battle, even if the commander fell in combat. With six previous 125th FW commanders in attendance, Downs accepted the colors signifying his acceptance of the new position and assumption of responsibility.

As the presiding officer, Valle lauded French for his leadership. He reminded the outgoing commander how on this same stage two years ago, he said he had full confidence French would lead the wing well.

“What I forgot to mention then was that two months into your command tour, you would have a world-wide pandemic that would impact every aspect of your command tour,” Valle said. “But despite all that was thrown your way, I can speak for General [James] Eifert that you did not let us down.”

Valle then offered Downs, as the incoming commander, some words of encouragement.

“Strike, I know you well. I know you’re a man of character, integrity and you’re a hard worker. You do it all to ensure our people are taken care of and the mission gets done,” Valle said. “Maj. Gen. Eifert and I have full confidence you will lead the wing well, and we are excited to see you in action.”

After accepting command of the wing, Downs addressed the Airmen for the first time as the new commander of the 125th FW. He spoke about the uncertainty the future holds due to both known changes and unknowable threats.

“With uncertainty comes opportunity; opportunity for each and every Airman, from the most junior Airman Basic to the most senior colonel, to make their mark on the future of our wing,” Downs said. “And while the phrase ‘make your mark’ generally conjectures thoughts of great, awe inspiring events, it is more often the small, incremental items that lead to the most enduring improvements.”

Downs earned an active duty commission through the University of Illinois Reserve Officer Training Corps program in May 1999. Following graduation, he attended undergraduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, earning his Wings in April 2001, and was selected to continue his pilot training on the F-15C Eagle at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. He served on active duty for 11 years in multiple operational and leadership assignments before transitioning to the 125th FW in July 2010.

In February 2018, he transitioned to the Headquarters, Florida Air National Guard to serve as the Director of Intelligence (A2), Operations (A3) and Communications (A6) before returning to the 125th FW in May 2020 in his current position as Vice Commander. He is a Command Pilot with over 2,600 flying hours in the T-37, T-38 and F-15A-D, and maintains a commercial pilot affiliation with a major United States airline.

In his closing remarks, the new 125th FW commander addressed the troops now under his command, and reminded them of why they are here.

“Our enemies have not been cheering us along from the sidelines,” Downs said. “Our enemies continue to plan their next moves while sowing distrust among us and our fellow Americans.

We must always remember that the reason the 125th Fighter Wing exists is to fight our nation’s enemies in order to protect the homeland. And we must never allow ourselves to lose focus from that purpose.”