Creating the largest wing through heat, pressure

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. David Harris
  • 96th Test Wing commander
One year ago, we were challenged with the task of creating a major organizational change for Eglin and our other locations--it meant creating the largest wing in the Air Force. Reflecting back on that time, I see the apprehension of the first days rapidly fading away. The apprehension was mine, and this is how I got it.

Seven months before the 96th Test Wing was created, the center commander was finally authorized to announce the upcoming changes publicly. At the time, I knew that I was going to command the new wing.

I purposely stood in the back corner of the Enlisted Heritage Hall to gauge the reaction when it was announced that our two wings, each with distinguished heritages, would merge. A few feet in front of me in the standing-room-only crowd a young Airman turned to his buddy and whispered, "that's bogus" ...except he didn't say "bogus." Clearly, bringing the two wings together was not going to be easy.

Fortunately, we got off to a good start. Even the name of our new wing is a combination of the two former wings, the 46th Test Wing and 96th Air Base Wing, excluding neither. With the extraordinary accomplishments of the air base wing's origins--the B-17 air campaigns in World War II--the heritage office directed we keep the number "96." But our flying mission remained, and so by Air Force custom, the wing would be a test wing.

A name alone would not be sufficient to weld the two cultures. Just as with two pieces of metal, heat and pressure are required to join an organization together. Almost immediately after the stand-up the heat and pressure came. We were all affected by three major events outside our control, each compelling us to leave our former differences aside for the greater good.

Announced with very little notice, the AFMC consolidated unit inspection pulled us together. The groups were motivated to cooperate as they collaborated on ways to achieve top scores. Out of necessity, everyone showed they could perform, even though our new wing was scarcely a month old at the time of the evaluation. Your performance was superb.

When Mother Nature sent Hurricane Isaac our way threatening to bring devastation, Airmen at all levels pulled together to ensure the safety of our Eglin family. Caring for people and our equipment remains a central priority of what we do. Fortunately, the storm track turned at the eleventh hour and damage was minimal. But the threat had strengthened our bonds.

Next, our team showed that even through difficult and troubling budgetary times brought on by sequestration and furlough, we could bolster one another and pool our resources to face down monetary challenges. Together, we are conquering a $30 million deficit handed to us with just six months remaining in the fiscal year to fix it. It is gratifying to see the outstanding performance of our groups and staff agencies as we look after each other and work to even out the load.

When times get tough it can either strengthen or destroy. In these three cases and many more, personnel strengthened the bond, making this new 96th TW great. No matter where we are physically located, we witnessed an essential unity that was beyond a merger, something very familiar to the oaths we swore as we began our service to our nation.

While we have come a long way in just a year, we are not completely there yet. Our wing will continue to adapt to our nation's needs with similar dedication. We will quickly repair each crack exposed by new pressures. As we look forward to AFMC's declaration of Final Operational Capability for its new center construct that includes the 96th TW, let us stand together as a team and continue the proud heritage of our past. Together, we create a promising future built on mission successes and the selfless service of our people.

I trust the men and women of this wing to find the right solution and empower you to make a positive difference. You have never let me down. Congratulations, 96th TW, on a very successful inaugural year and thank you for all you do every day in support of our missions.