By Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker, 180FW Public Affairs
/ Published September 27, 2016
Swanton, Ohio -- Col. Craig R. Baker, relinquished command of the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, during an official change of command ceremony Aug. 8, concluding his historic tour as the first active duty officer to command an Air National Guard Wing.
The 180FW became the first Ohio National Guard unit in history to become part of the Air Force's Total Force Integration concept when the wing was assigned an active duty commander March 2, 2014.
Baker's assignment to the 180FW was one of the first steps in building the framework to increase overall integration between the Active Component, or AC, and the Reserve Component, referred to as RC, which is comprised of the Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard.
"Col. Baker's selection was borne out of the desire to more closely integrate the three components," said Maj. Gen. Mark Bartman, adjutant general for the Ohio National Guard and ANG representative for the Total Force Task Force, or TF2. "One method to that end is through the integration of leadership positions."
In 2013, together with former Commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Gilmary Hostage, III and Lt. Gen. Stanley Clark, former director of the Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, former adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard, drafted an official memorandum to the Acting Secretary of the Air Force, The Honorable Eric Fanning.
Highlighting the wing's long tradition of excellence, the memo boasted the 180FW as a "Top-notch F-16 wing" and a great opportunity to provide an excellent experience for an active duty officer.
It was the forward-thinking initiative of Ashenhurst that put the 180FW and Baker at the forefront of TFI, becoming a benchmark as the Air Force strives to become "One Air Force."
The Secretary of Defense approved Baker for a dual-status commission in February, 2014, as both an active duty officer as well as an officer assigned to the Ohio Air National Guard.
"We are one Air Force," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, following the submission of recommendations from the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, submitted to congress in March, 2016. "We're committed to this idea and it's foundational to the way we present our capabilities. We're not going to be operationally successful any other way."
This assignment laid the groundwork for the wing's future role in the Total Force Plan which will bring four active duty pilots and 40 aircraft maintenance personnel to the 180FW, in addition to the wing's current manning.
With the process already in full swing, in addition to Baker's assignment as commander, one of the four pilots was assigned in 2015. The remainder of the pilots and maintenance personnel are slated to begin arriving at the 180FW in the next few years.
"The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve provide the nation a vital capability that is functionally integrated and operationally indistinguishable from the active force," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. "This maximizes our total force and secures (our) top priorities of taking care of people, balancing today's readiness with tomorrow's modernization, and making every dollar count."
Baker said he was both excited and humbled when he learned of his selection to command an ANG wing, a first in the history of the Air Force.
"My job as a wing commander was to leave the 180FW better than I received it, in mission and in purpose," said Baker. "I hoped to accomplish making a better, more lethal, innovative and efficient wing."
Baker's list of accomplishments during his short tour with the 180FW is astonishing. Most notable, and in line with the TFI concept and his vision for the wing, maximizing the force through innovation and efficiency while balancing readiness and modernization was a primary focus for Baker.
In 2015, Baker led the charge in developing an exercise requiring 180FW aircraft and personnel to deploy quickly and arrive at another Air Force installation with no notice.
"We exercised that concept, the first ANG wing to do so, by sending jets to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, unannounced," said Col. Scott Reed, 180FW vice commander. "All of the planning and coordination was closely guarded and proved that we could plan, generate and execute these kinds of missions without signals or warnings to our enemies."
The exercise was a success and proved that the ability to show up anywhere in the world, unannounced, is an incredible capability for the Air Force.
"This is really 'tip-of-the-spear' and operationally relevant," said Reed.
Additionally, in 2016, Baker was instrumental in coordinating a Sortie Production Assessment for the wing, another first-ever for an ANG wing. This assessment is a no-notice inspection of the maintenance and operations groups, aimed at evaluating daily processes and operations for maintainers, pilots and support staff.
"This assessment has no written reports, all feedback is from the inspector team chief directly to the wing commander," said Reed. "This surprise visit allows for a brutally honest assessment of a wing's day-to-day ability. We received valuable recommendations which we have already acted upon to improve our processes."
Understanding and embracing the term Citizen Airman, a term largely unknown by our active duty counterparts, was another significant accomplishment, not only for Baker, but also for those communities surrounding the 180FW.
"The feeling is one of accomplishment and achievement because now I know and understand, after serving as the 180FW commander for more than two years, what it means to be a Citizen Airman," said Baker. "This is a role I take very seriously because it involves and details the military warrior ethos."
Baker continued, explaining how the military relies on Americans to be connected to its military and that the ANG Citizen Airmen are the connection, embedded in the communities and building enduring relationships with those communities.
"The Citizen Airman culture, a culture that I now understand, serves as the real connection between America and its military," said Baker. "A critical role that each of us in the military play in keeping our military connected to those, in whose name we fight."
The 180FW also boasts a long tradition of supporting and serving in surrounding communities and those communities are the foundation on which the 180FW was built.
"The success of the180FW is founded upon the steadfast support, trust and generosity of the local community," said Baker.
Baker's drive to embrace the ANG culture only served to strengthen the unwavering bonds the 180FW has with its surrounding communities. The relationships built between Baker and civic leaders throughout Northwest Ohio opened new doors, providing hundreds of opportunities for both the 180FW and its community members.
Perhaps, the largest community partnerships built during his tour was the Toledo Air Show Foundation. Baker pulled together a robust team of local civic leaders, paired them with military liaisons and bridged the communication gaps between military and civilian counterparts in less than seven months to produce an event second to none. The event brought in more than 52,000 spectators and allowed for the Toledo Air Show Foundation to donate more than $30,000 to local charities. The Toledo Air Show had been absent from Northwest Ohio for more than a decade.
Baker also spearheaded the Air Force Public-Public, Public-Private, or P4 program, the first initiated in the Ohio Air National Guard. The program is focused on building innovative relationships with community organizations and leaders such as The Boy Scouts of America, local universities and law enforcement agencies to leverage capabilities of military installations, local governments or commercial entities to reduce operating costs and the costs of services while retaining or enhancing quality.
The goal of the P4 program is to bring Air Force leadership and resource support to installation and community leaders as they develop, prioritize and implement partnership initiatives. The 180FW is currently in the process of finalizing 30 partnerships in the Northwest Ohio area.
"He has left a lasting impression on the community," said Wendy Gramza, president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, during Baker's Change of Command Ceremony. "He stands tall and makes the rest of us stand a little taller too."
Another powerful lesson learned as commander of an ANG wing and one that he will take with him as he begins a new chapter in his career, back within the active duty component, is that the ANG is ALWAYS on mission.
"Historically reserve components were intended to provide a strategic reserve, called upon only in a time of war or national emergency, when active component forces were insufficient or unavailable," said Bartman. "However, in the 15 years since 9/11 that is no longer the case. The Air National Guard today, is an operational reserve that provides strategic depth to America."
"The ANG is always on mission," said Baker. "It means that the ANG deploys alongside of active components and you cannot tell the difference, its Airmen doing the same mission regardless of component."
While Total Force Integration is well underway and the 180FW has marked its place in the history books with Baker's selection to command an ANG wing, the Air Force continues to make history with the recent selection of the first ANG officer, Col. April Vogel, to command an active duty wing, when she assumed command of MacDill Air Force Base, July 8.
"While there will be challenges moving forward toward an Active Association wing, there is no doubt that the men and women of the 180FW will prove successful in leading the way for the Total Force," said Baker.