Col. James G. Young: More than a photo on a wall

  • Published
  • By Lewis Lambert
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

On July 7, 2022, Col. James G. Young, 317th Airlift Wing commander, relinquished his colors to Col. Thomas Lankford.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Bibb, 18th Air Force commander, presided over the change of command ceremony.

The 317th AW is a much decorated combat airlift wing, serving the mission of the Military Airlift Command to provide air mobility: Right Effects, Right Place, and Right Time. The 317th AW mission is to generate and Employ Combat Aircraft.

Wing commander change of command ceremonies occur throughout the Air Force on a routine basis as a select few senior officers rise to this coveted position. The ceremony is traditional throughout the military services and will repeat itself as long as the military exists.

What makes a wing commander’s change of command ceremony so special? For the new commander it is the fact that becoming a wing commander is the logical path to a more senior leadership role, and the new wing commander has earned the opportunity to demonstrate his or her acumen and leadership chops in a dynamic global threat environment.

But what about the departing wing commander who will soon be a photo on a wall along with other former wing commanders? Rarely is there a focus of attention on the officer that has relinquished command.

When wing commanders end their tours of duty, it is assumed they met all the expectations that were placed on them. Some have exceeded those expectations, but that story isn’t part of the ceremony or widely mentioned as the new wing commander takes command.

Something impacted the life of Col. Young and his family during the past two years that should be shared with the Airmen he led.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve at the helm of Air Mobility Command's best combat airlift unit,” Col. Young said. “Over the last two years, we've made contributions to the mission, strengthened relationships, and built friendships that will live in cherished memory. I'm sure I've learned more from these warriors than they've gleaned from me, and my family and I are grateful for the service and sacrifices of this team and their families.”

However, that’s only part of the story. Col. Young’s remarks regarding leading the best C-130J combat airlift wing has now been shared with his warriors. All of the 317th AW’s accomplishments since 2020 have been documented, and as wing commander, they are Col. Young’s accomplishments as well.

What legacy did he leave behind? How did the Airmen of the 317th AW profit professionally? How did his two-year tenure impact their lives and their careers?

Not many commanders learn about their legacy from their Airmen, but Col. Young’s team wanted him to know how they feel.

“You’ve been an inspiration to us all.”

“I appreciate all the mentorship and leadership, our mission is so much easier to plan and execute knowing leadership had our back and doing everything to support us.”

“We will miss you.”

“One of the best commanders I’ve ever worked for.”

“It’s going to be tough losing the colonel.”

These were just a few of the messages left for the commander by the Airmen he led.

In a social media post, Christopher Brown wrote, “Greatest leader I’ve worked for, twice now (86th OG/OC). Blue skies, sir!”

A senior member of Col. Young’s staff said, “Col. Young is the type of leader who values each and every person, regardless of rank or position, places their interests ahead of his own even if it brings him personal and professional risk. Everyone knows they can trust and depend on him. They are not afraid to talk to him. He focuses every day on executing the mission the wing has been given to do with the awareness that, without taking care of all the people, the mission will fail. He leads by example in every area. He listens, he cares, and he gives you straight answers. He is a driven, caring, intelligent, masterfully capable warrior leader.”

As Col. Young departs for the Air Mobility Command’s headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, new expectations will be placed on his shoulders. The Airmen he left behind at Dyess AFB anticipate he will “crush” them as well.