Keesler wing commander bids bittersweet farewell

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS   (WLOX) -  Pomp and patriotism filled Keesler's Parade Field Monday morning, as hundreds of airmen braved the chilly winds to salute their leader.

Brigadier General Gregory Touhill made his final inspection of the troops. He took over command of the 81st Training Wing in October of 2007.  His time at the Biloxi base has been short, but he came at a critical period when the base was still trying to rebound from Hurricane Katrina.

"A lot of work had started, but none of it had been completed," said Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, the Second Air Force Commander. "You have started, continued on, and completed a lot of the rebuild, renew, and reload."

The general is credited with completing the rebuilding of hundreds of homes after Katrina.

"Rebuilding is more than just the bricks and mortar.  It's the attitude, the attitude of taking on any challenge, doing it better than anybody else.  That's the challenge I give to you," Brig. Gen. Touhill told the airmen.

He also believes in renewing and strengthening the bond with the Coast community. For instance, he spearheaded efforts to bring the Air Show back to Keesler after a five year absence. The record-setting event drew more than 140,000 people over the weekend.

"If we can run an Air Show where we've got 85,000 plus people the first day and almost 60,000 on the second day, that trains my airmen on how to manage and plan for very complex operations," said Touhill.  "And if we could pull off that Air Show, we can rebound from Katrina, we can do anything."

Finally, Brig. Gen. Touhill was praised for his efforts to train future leaders.

"Our principal mission here is to reload the Air Force with the world's finest warriors. We train in 38 different specialties," said Touhill.  "As I leave Keesler Air Force Base, I hope you will embrace the attitude of championship. That you will strive to be a champion every day."

For his service and leadership, General Touhill received the "Legion of Merit" Award. He leaves on Friday to train for his next assignment as Chief of the Office of Military Cooperation in Kuwait.

"A great deal of sadness, having to say goodbye to so many friends," said Touhill. "We've been here before and we keep on coming back and we hope the good Lord will give us the opportunity to come back and visit our Mississippi home."

"I salute you and say 'Well done. Thank you and God speed'," said Flowers as he shook hands with Touhill.

The new commander, Col. Ian Dickinson, is expected to arrive at Keesler at the end of May. In the meantime, Vice Wing Commander Colonel Chris Valle will assume command of the 81st Training Wing

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