• Published
  • By Army Sgt. Christopher Milbrodt
  • FLNG Public Affairs
For some people change brings anxiety, fear and visions of the worst possible scenario. Change, especially unexpected, is not usually welcomed or perceived as a good thing. However, change can also bring fresh insight and positive growth. For the Florida Air National Guard (FLANG), change is coming.

The month of December brings with it the dawn of major changes within FLANG leadership from the top down. This unprecedented level of change has been just off the horizon for a few months following the confirmation of Brig. Gen. Thomas Cucchi's move to Pacific Command. With his move, key leadership positions must be filled starting with the FLANG Chief of Staff.

"We looked at eligible candidates within the state and there were only a couple of qualified individuals with certificates of eligibility to O-7 that could compete for the position," said Brig. Gen. James Eifert, Commander of the Florida Air National Guard.
In the wake of the first of many changes, Col. Brian Simpler has been selected to become the Florida Air National Guard Chief of Staff. His selection comes after a careful selection process led by the command team.

"This is a terrific opportunity for the state to promote one of our shining stars and fill an important position within the headquarters," said Eifert. "Col. Simpler is a proven and capable leader who will be an outstanding asset to the command team. This move also opens up opportunities for advancement within the wing as well, which is an exciting attribute of the current situation."

In addition to his promotion to brigadier general, Col. Simpler will be passing the torch to a new commander for the 125th Fighter Wing. Traditionally, the strongest candidate and someone who is usually considered first is the vice wing commander. In this situation however, Col. Matthew VanWieren, the current Vice Wing Commander of the 125th Fighter Wing, has announced his voluntary retirement in order to pursue an opportunity within the civilian aviation community. With all of the factors in play, the search for a new commander has been extensive and exhausting, according to Eifert.

"We looked at all the available options to fill the 125th Wing command position. All the possibilities and resumes for qualified individuals were considered from active duty, title-ten statutory tour (Stat tour), and from around the state - to include the 101st Air Operations Group at Tyndall AFB," said Eifert. "The definition of the term qualified is, they have to have held group command at some point prior to assuming a wing command position and they had to be a rated F-15 pilot in order to be able to fly and lead the 125th Fighter Wing."

A request for eligible candidates went forward to the Air National Guard Readiness Center and to the Air Combat Command, which returned a list of five possible candidates. An additional qualified candidate was put into the running from the active component as well as individuals from within the FLANG.

All of the resumes were carefully reviewed to determine the absolute best candidate for the job, even if that meant bringing an individual from another component into the organization. According to Eifert, the more than two-month search brought forward the best and brightest from within each component.

"This has been the most exhaustive selection process we have ever undertaken, especially with the possibility of doing something unusual such as bringing an active duty officer in to command a National Guard element. There are only three guard bases with active duty wing commanders across all 54 states and territories, and it has worked out well for those units" said Eifert. "We have analyzed the capabilities and qualifications of all the candidates and did not deem them to be any more competitive than what we have within the state." 

With the settling of the dust of that selection process, comes the announcement of Col. Brian "Banzai" Bell as the new 125th Fighter Wing Commander. His experience as an Air Force Fighter Weapons School graduate, coupled with his command experience in a maintenance group, helped him stand out among the other candidates.

"He has had the opportunity to lead as a squadron commander within the maintenance group, which is a great experience for an aviator. As pilots, we sometimes get locked into the operational mentality and don't get to understand the nuances of leading people outside of the operations world," said Eifert. "What makes him a great leader is that he is a level-headed, quiet and steady force whom you can count on and he is loved and respected throughout the wing by those who have worked for him."

These changes are not the only ones on the way for the wing. With the movement of these two officers, and the retirement last month of Col. Ron Corey from the Maintenance Group, along with Col Van Wieren's announcement this month, the opportunities for advancement and promotion are pretty significant from colonel down to captain. As flight commanders become squadron commanders and squadron commanders become group commanders, there are excellent prospects for upward mobility throughout the organization.

In the command team's opinion, this couldn't be a better scenario for the FLANG.

"Despite the initial discomfort associated with so much change, I look at this as a positive in that there will be upward mobility for a lot of highly qualified and deserving Airmen to assume roles of greater responsibility," said Eifert. "Given the tremendous pool of outstanding leaders we possess at every level in our organization, I have no doubt that the 125th Fighter Wing will continue to be in great hands."