The members of the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise welcomed their new commander during a change of command ceremony, June 7, 2019.
Col. Stephen Jones assumed command from Col. Julian Cheater as Maj. Gen. Andrew Croft, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander, presided over the event.
“To the men and women of the 432nd Wing, thank you for sustaining the most persistent attack and reconnaissance platform in the world,” Croft said. “No weapon system in the Air Force’s history has had a greater impact on the global fight against violent extremism than the MQ-1 Predator and now the MQ-9 Reaper.”
Croft went on to mark the milestones the Airmen of the 432nd WG/432nd AEW accomplished on behalf of the RPA community, praising Cheater’s part in the past, and expressing faith in Jones’s future.
“Like the Doolittle Raiders, the Hunters paved the way for innovation, delivering reliable combat support in a way no one had ever thought of before, and, ultimately, forever changing the face of military aviation,” Croft said. “[Colonel Cheater], you have led the way for the last two years and [Col. Jones], I know you’re ready to command.”
Croft then presented Cheater with the Legion of Merit, earned in part through his pursuit of the first-ever remote achievement decoration awarded to RPA aircrew for having direct and immediate impact on the battlefield, and his efforts in improving quality of life for Creech Airmen.
Having led RPA Airmen at various levels for nearly seven years, Cheater gave his parting words.
“As a result of our collective efforts, friendlies returned home, terrorist leaders hide underground, families are free from ISIS, and our homeland is safe from attacks; this is what winning looks like,” Cheater said. “While it’s bittersweet to leave command, I am privileged to hand it over to someone I know will do an outstanding job.”
With a final salute between Airmen and their outgoing commander, a passing of the guidon from Cheater to Jones, and applause from the crowd, Team Creech welcomed their new commander.
Addressing the wing for the first time, Jones thanked the many Airmen who worked tirelessly over the years to develop the RPA mission and vowed to build upon the foundation that was laid before him.
Jones was first assigned to Creech in 2000 as an RQ-1 Predator student pilot, and has returned several times including as chief of flight training of the 15th Attack Squadron, director of operations of the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron and commander of the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron.
He has flown the B-1 Spirit bomber, MQ-1, and MQ-9, deployed multiple times in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and was an initial member of the team that armed the RQ-1.
Later in his career he commanded the 451st Air Expeditionary Group, where he drove airpower presence in Afghanistan. Most recently, Jones served as vice commander of the 603rd Air Operations Center, and operated in support of U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command.
“As a true combat-proven leader, Colonel Jones will carry on the Hunter’s legacy and keep heading our nation’s path in the ever-changing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance battlefield,” Croft said.
As wing commander, Jones is responsible for the Airmen who fly 24/7/365 combat operations around the world, and for one of the youngest platforms in the U.S. Air Force’s arsenal, the MQ-9 Reaper.
“Creech Air Force Base has a very special place in my heart, and there is no place I’d rather be than right here, right now, serving as your commander,” Jones said. “I look forward to getting to know each of you as we continue our critical mission of delivering dominant, persistent attack, and reconnaissance for our nation and coalition partners.”