TUCSON, Ariz. — A former vice commander for the 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force in Afghanistan assumed command of the 214th Reconnaissance Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base July 9.
Col. James Thompson, an Arizona native who returns home after 22 years of active duty service, took over from Lt.
Col. Brian Grasky, who served as the interim commander for the group and will now be its Operations Support Squadron Commander.
The primary mission of the 214th RG is to fly overseas intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions using the MQ-1 Predator in support of combatant commander priorities. The unit flies operations 24 hours a day, every day.
“We stand at a benchmark point of the RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) enterprise and for the wing,” said Brig. Gen.
Phil Purcell, commander of the 162nd Wing, during the assumption of command ceremony. “Growth and change, challenges and opportunities – the 214th is ready for it all, and I look forward to watching the new heights the group will achieve, and I welcome Colonel Thompson to the wing.”
Purcell added that while Thompson’s technical background was impressive, it was his “commitment, confidence and character that can’t be deciphered from a piece of paper” that paved the way for him to be the top officer of the nearly decade-old group.
Airmen, friends and family were on hand to witness the time-honored ceremony, complete with the symbolic passing of a unit guideon between commanders.
During his speech, Thompson highlighted the forward-thinking mentality that he hopes will be the standard for the more than 170 Airmen serving under his command, expressing an excitement about the future of the platform.
“We are going to proceed forward with more speed… more capability. We are going to continue to evolve this mission.”
Thompson’s new assignment comes amid high-demand from overseas commanders for persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The unit’s presence extends southward to a newly established Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) in Ft. Huachuca, Sierra Vista, Arizona, which trains pilots and sensor operators to take off and land the aircraft.
In addition to the unit’s combat responsibilities in the theater of operations, the Airmen and aircraft at the LRE may be called on to support the governor in a variety of scenarios, like providing wildfire imagery or search and rescue.
Thompson, a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and command pilot with over 2,500 hours of flight time in six separate airframes, highlighted the relevance of the unit’s mission, pointing to an incident earlier this year in Kabul, when an improvised explosive device killed scores of Afghan nationals within miles of his position.
“There is an insatiable appetite for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and that is why we are here.”
The ceremony comes during the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force’s designation as the operating service for the multi-role system, and plans to transition from the MQ-1 Predator to the MQ-9 Reaper.
In closing, Thompson reminded the audience that maintaining and operating an RPA mission is more than just tending to pilots and sensor operators.
“None of this happens without the great support of finance, communications, medical and administration – everybody putting these pieces together that will take this team forward.”
In a separate interview, Thompson offered a guiding principle for his Airmen.
“Follow the three core values, you will do just fine. That’s what we need to do every day,” he said, referencing the three Air Force core values of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.”
He also made them a promise of action and transparency for his tenure at the 162nd Wing.
“I plan to ‘see, be and do,'” he explained. “I am going to ‘see’ our vision, and ‘be’ that example, working to be the best Airman you will ever see. Last of all, we are going to ‘do.’ Let’s stop talking, get out there and do it.”