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Incoming commander takes reins of Manas Air Base
Lt. Gen. Gary North passes the guidon to Col. Blaine Holt during the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing change of command ceremony held June 15, 2009 at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan. Passing the guidon symbolizes the relinquishment of authority from the outgoing commander to the incoming commander. Colonel Holt most recently served as the 92nd Air Refueling Wing vice commander at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. General North is U.S. Air Forces Central and 9th Air Force commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Weinberg)
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Incoming commander takes reins of Manas Air Base

Posted 6/16/2009   Updated 6/16/2009 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Hanson
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

6/16/2009 - MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan  -- A change of command ceremony for the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing was held June 15 in front of the wing headquarters here.

Col. Christopher Bence relinquished command of the 376th AEW to incoming commander Col. Blaine Holt with Lt. Gen. Gary North presiding over the event.

"It's been especially rewarding to watch you lead in command," said General North, U.S. Air Forces Central and 9th Air Force commander, commending Colonel Bence's efforts.

"...And we all know our accomplishments rest on the shoulders of the great Airmen who have served under our leadership," the general said.

"You have demonstrated superb leadership by commanding a combat unit of over 4,600 personnel [during your tenure], operating multiple aircraft and engaging in coalition operations ... effectively integrating our air and space capability into the fight in Afghanistan," said General North.

"The 376th provides the steady beat as our coalition forces execute their mission under the blanket of air dominance. Your leadership set the standard and the numbers clearly illustrate the story as I see it from my position," said the general.

Col. Christopher Bence will now take on a new assignment at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., where he will be the deputy J3 director for operations at U.S. Transportation Command.

General North then welcomed the new commander, Colonel Holt, who before taking command of the 376th AEW, most recently served as the 92nd Air Refueling Wing vice commander at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.

"Your time to take the flag of command has come," said General North. "You will fully utilize all of your knowledge and past experiences ... to uphold and advance the tradition of excellence here," he said.

"Your year in command will be the highlight of your career," the general continued. "Savor every minute of it. You will write the next chapter in the story of how Airmen integrate into the Afghan fight and drive for success by establishing stability, security and prosperity for Afghanistan," said General North.

General North then spoke next to the 376th AEW members.

"You continue to prove you get the mission done. Your continued success under Colonel Holt's leadership will be vital to the coalition efforts in Afghanistan and your work in the 376th Wing is critically important for the future of our collective nations, our families, and our children," said General North.

Prior to the exchange of the guidon, General North presented Colonel Bence with his first Bronze Star. Under Colonel Bence's leadership, the wing produced 6,370 combat sorties that passed 204 million pounds of fuels. He also directed $61 million in construction projects for warrior care of more than 189,000 American and coalition forces transiting through Manas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Also, Colonel Bence led the first Air Force application of Roll-on Beyond-Line-of-Sight Enhancement, or ROBE, a critical asset which enhanced the digital close-air-support network by 200 percent and which reduced the time required for the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers by more than 50 percent.
Before handing the reins over to Colonel Holt, Colonel Bence spoke about his year as commander of the 376th AEW.

"It is hard to believe that one year ago, I was standing on this stage taking command and today I must hand the flag to another officer. As hard as it will be to hand over the flag ... I am excited and proud to be able to do so to a great leader and most importantly to a good friend in Colonel Blaine Holt," said outgoing commander Colonel Bence.

"Colonel Holt and I have served together in the past. He will continue to cultivate the good relationships with the Kyrgyz Republic and its citizens and he will continue the integration of all the coalition efforts at here," he said. Blaine, you are the right leader to take this wing to the next level. I know everyone at Manas is in great hands and will continue to prosper under your leadership," said Colonel Bence.

"The air mobility efforts of the coalition at Manas are vital to the peace and security of Central Asia. It has been an honor to have served and partnered with the Kyrgyz Republic in our collective effort to defeat terrorism in order to make our world safer for our families and our children," said Colonel Bence.

With the guidon in his charge, Colonel Holt is now responsible for the premier mobility hub for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the wing's around-the-clock mission includes... air refueling, combat airlift and air drop, aeromedical evacuation and strategic airlift operations. Coalition aircraft here include a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling fleet, as well as the Spanish C-130s, and France's C-135FR refuelers. 

The 376 AEW has approximately 1,100 military personnel assigned, including U.S., Spanish and French coalition forces. 

Additionally, the base employs approximately 750 contract workers to assist with day-to-day operations and support personnel assigned to and transiting through the base. 

"I am very excited to be part of the model coalition partnership cultivated here, not just with our Kyrygz friends but also with our allies from France and Spain. In addition to leading the base's role in ensuring all our brothers and sisters in arms from all the services get the enabling support they need, expect and deserve," said Colonel Holt.
Colonel Holt began his Air Force career through the University of Georgia's Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. The ROTC Distinguished Graduate was commissioned in 1988. 

He is a command pilot with more than 3,700 flying hours in a variety of aircraft. He was selected to the C-17 Globemaster III Initial Cadre, completing the tour as a C-17A Lead Airdrop Examiner Pilot. 

He is certified as a military linguist and maintains fluency in Dutch. His dissertation, written and defended in Dutch, was awarded a "with distinction" honor at the Royal Superior College of Defense in Brussels. In 2006, he partnered with a fellow C-17A squadron commander to develop, write, and successfully staff a revolutionary new strategy in the combat employment of C-17A forces. 

Some of his distinguished decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters, an Air Medal, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, an Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, a Joint Service Achievement Medal, and an Air Force Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster. 

"Whether you are a warrior from operations, maintenance, support or medical you all know that each and every one of us has our part of passing the fuel that saves lives and destroys evil daily, and that we all have a hand in the transport that moves warriors to and from the fight along with their materiel," said Colonel Holt. 

"The mission is incredible and you all make it happen right here," said to his wing formation, made up the 376th AEW staff, 376th Expeditionary Operations Group, 376th Expeditionary Mission Support Group 376th Expeditionary Maintenance Group, 376th Expeditionary Medical Group and the French and Spanish Detachments standing before him. 

"I can assure you that the core part of our Airmen creed to 'Fly, fight and win' will stand as the passion of this wing," said Colonel Holt.

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