CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — Military officers rarely cry in public, and commanders crying in front of their troops is even less common.
But that didn’t prevent Col. Robert “Rowdy” Yates, outgoing commander of the 27th Fighter Wing and Cannon Air Force Base, from choking back tears with a breaking voice during Friday’s change of command ceremony before hundreds of troops standing in formation in a large hangar at Cannon Air Force Base.
“Take care of these people, my people,” Yates said to his replacement, Col. John D. Posner. “It’s time for us to move on.”
In his farewell speech, Yates said leaving Cannon was a “bittersweet moment” for both him and his wife. Yates cited a list of combat performance records by Cannon personnel as well as successful inspections and awards won back home as reasons why he’ll be sad to leave.
“You name it, we were there,” Yates said. “The facts prove this is the world’s most lethal war-fighting wing.”
Lt. Gen. Randall M. “Mark” Schmidt, commander of the 12th Air Force covering bases in the western and Midwest United States, told the assembled troops they could be proud of Yates and presented him with the Legion of Merit for his service at Cannon.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the Air Force,” Schmidt said.
The excitement, Schmidt said, stems from an Air Force in the middle of a major restructuring effort to convert what was once a large force designed to combat Soviet-era enemies into a new and smaller force that is more dangerous because it is more quickly deployable. The role of Cannon, according to Schmidt, represents part of that transformation. In the past, bases had to be located near a combat zone to effectively participate in a war, but despite being based in New Mexico, the 27th Fighter Wing was able to rapidly deploy part of its forces to Iraq and eventually dropped 28 percent of all Air Force munitions used in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“You started by re-identifying Cannon Air Force Base in name as the ‘world’s most lethal,’ and then brought that name into accomplishment,” Schmidt said to Yates. “Your troops were routinely recognized as the best. Suffice it to say you were the right man at the right time to head this wing.”
Schmidt also gave some cautions to the incoming commander.
“Remember that we are still at war,” Schmidt said. “It has been almost two years since the World Trade Center towers fell, and the Air Force has been at full speed.”
Schmidt warned that working at a consistently high operational tempo can lead to strains on families and complacency by troops, and urged Posner to remember to take care of his personnel.
After assuming command with the formal passing of the guidon — a military flag symbolizing the authority of the commander — Posner spoke briefly to the assembled airmen and officers regarding his connections with Cannon while he was stationed in Saudi Arabia.
“Elements of the 27th Fighter Wing deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base while I was commanding there, so I know firsthand the standard of excellence,” Posner said. “We will continue to be the world’s best at both flying and fixing airplanes. My wife and I look forward to being here.”