BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base celebrated the passing of the flag. The command of the base was officially handed from Col. Jennie R. Johnson to Col. Jeffrey A Van Dootingh.
Van Dootingh accepted command of the 403rd Wing reserve unit at Keesler after a previous assignment here just seven years ago. He now takes over the responsibility of remaining ready to respond to every challenge, every time.
“We have a lot of different kinds of training we need to do to be ready to deploy to a combat mission," said outgoing commander Johnson.
Johnson created the Warrior Week for the training that includes lessons outside of the jobs originally assigned to today’s service men and women.
“They’re trainings that are not necessarily related to our AFSC, our Air Force Service Code,” Johnson said. "What we wanted to do is take one time and get all that training for our airmen. If we could put it all together, and have them do all that in one week, we could really get back to focusing on our ability to survive and operate.”
This is important to today’s airmen for many reasons, not the least of which is “To make sure that they can get back into the field and do the duties that they joined the Air Force to do," Johnson told WLOX.
The 403rd Wing commander Van Dootingh said that continuing this work is critical to the mission.
“Take what Colonel Johnson’s already started and, it’s really to get our readiness back to where it needs to be," Van Dootingh said. "So that, if our country calls us at a moment’s notice, we can get folks into the fight and keep America safe, which is why we joined in the first place.”
Support outside of the bases gates, according to Van Dootingh, helps in the fight to keep America safe.
“Community support for all military, not just the Air Force, here, is unsurpassed,” Van Dootingh said.
It was that support from the community in Biloxi that Van Dootingh said made his decision to come back, that much easier.
“We loved our tour here. The community support is unmatched. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve already thrown out a pitch at the Shucker’s game," Van Dootingh said. "They’ve made me feel welcome from the first minute we arrived. It’s just really good to be back here.”
Before Johnson departed Keesler for the final time, she had some words of wisdom for the new commander.
“Enjoy it. It goes by way to fast. You have the 1,500 best airmen in the world here," she said.