04/01/10 — Kelly officially turns over command today

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Kelly officially turns over command today

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 1, 2010 1:46 PM

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Col. Mark Kelly

By just after 2 this afternoon, the 4th Fighter Wing will have a new leader.

Col. Mark Kelly will have exchanged one final salute with young men and women he considers family.

And seasoned aviator Col. Patrick Doherty will have received his first as commander of those same airmen.

The ceremony, which is scheduled to take place on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, comes roughly a year-and-a-half after Kelly got word he was to return to the wing he once trained as a member of.

He took that call at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and said the only downside of making the decision was that he knew it would mean an early exit from theater.

During his term, Kelly watched hundreds of his airmen -- and the majority of the 4th's fleet of Strike Eagles -- deploy to the very base he left back in 2008.

And although their achievements are what he believes ultimately will define his legacy, the colonel celebrated his own milestones during his time as their commander.

He surpassed the 3,000 flying hour mark in the F-15E, a feat characterized as "rare" and "remarkable" by others who have made a career commanding the jet.

And he orchestrated construction of shelters for the wing's aging fleet and those airmen who "turn the wrenches" in the elements to ensure those jets are mission ready.

Kelly also welcomed distinguished visitors to the base during his stint -- Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Beverly Perdue and a World War II veteran who came to claim decorations he earned but had not received until the colonel pinned them on his breast.

But he wasn't surprised by just all that transpired over the past year-and -a-half.

In fact, shortly after he took the reins, he predicted a "great ride."

"Lots of folks who become colonels want to be a wing commander, but I don't know another who became a wing commander back at the base he considers home -- where both of his kids started and finished high school, where he got to deploy to two major theater wars, where his wife was a substitute teacher," Kelly said in September 2008. "(My wife, Tanya), she used the quote, 'Dream come true.' That kind of sums it up."

For complete coverage of today's ceremony, see Friday's News-Argus and click www.NewsArgus.com