BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) --
A former air liaison officer to the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq took command of the newly activated 504th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group during an assumption of command ceremony here March 30.
Col. James Thomas took hold of the 504th EASOG guidon from Lt. Gen. Gary North, commander of 9th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Central, in front of unit Airmen, distinguished guests and Bagram servicemembers.
"I'm honored and humbled to serve as the commander of this distinguished unit," said the 23-year Air Force veteran who recently served as the 505th Command and Control Wing - Detachment 1 commander for the Army Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. "I've spent the last year and a half spreading the gospel about air-to-ground integration and now I get to put all the doctrine I've learned to work."
As the first 504th EASOG commander, Colonel Thomas leads more than 125 air liaison officers and tactical air control party and combat weather Airmen assigned to three squadrons -- the 717th Air Support Operations Squadron, 817th ASOS and 917th Combat Weather Squadron -- deployed throughout Afghanistan.
The colonel said he's looking forward to working, albeit briefly, with the Army's 101st AD before it is replaced by the 82nd Airborne Division next month.
"This job is not just about taking care of Airmen," Colonel Thomas said. "It's also about taking care of the Soldiers on the ground."
Shortly before Colonel Thomas assumed command of the unit, General North unveiled the unit's guidon for the first time since the 504th Tactical Air Support Group was inactivated in 1972.
"As the 504th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group begins its combat legacy, it's important for us all to understand the significance of the air support operations squadrons and combat weather squadrons in today's fight," General North said.
Members of the 717th ASOS at Kabul play a critical role as they coordinate with International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan troops to provide air support throughout the region, the general explained.
"Without (717th ASOS) expertise managing combat forces, our ground commanders and forces would be at increased risk in their scheme of maneuver; making ground operations much more difficult in execution," said General North.
"The 817th ASOS (also) greatly contributes to the coalition success on the ground by embedding its personnel with ground units and integrating airpower across the spectrum of operations," he said. "They ensure precise, yet deadly, airpower support to the joint force."
General North added that the personnel in the 917th CWS are significant because they provide crucial weather support for Army operations, allowing ground commanders to effectively plan missions "with the highest chance of success in the air and on the ground."
As the mission in Afghanistan continues to grow, General North said Air Force leaders felt the need to create a consolidated command structure for the three geographically separated units.
"As our mission roles have increased, it became obvious to me and our leadership that we needed to align an ASOG to Afghanistan and this is why the 504th has been formed," he said. "Standing up and executing this group's mission will take strong leadership and that's exactly what Colonel Thomas brings to the fight. You have the unique opportunity to write this chapter in the story of how Airmen of the 504th EASOG integrate into today's fight."
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