Changing command: Col. Safranek takes charge at DAFB

Col. Joel Safranek (left) is congratulated by outgoing commander Col. Ethan Griffin after he assumed command of Dover AFB. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Airmen at Dover Air Force Base saluted Col. Ethan C. Griffin as he relinquished his position as commander of the 436th Airlift Wing in a Change of Command ceremony on Wednesday morning.

Just moments later they welcomed Col. Joel W. Safranek as the new commander of the 436th — also known as the “Eagle Wing” — as he took the reins in front of a giant American flag which served as an appropriate backdrop inside one of the huge hangars on base.

Both men received standing ovations, even though they were headed in opposite directions in a ceremony that took place in front of a pair of mammoth C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III cargo airplanes.

Lt. Gen. Giovanni K. Tuck, commander of the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, presided over the ceremony and received the 436th AW guidon from Col. Griffin before he passed it on to Col. Safranek, symbolizing the official transfer of command.

“Col. Safranek is not shy to operations and he’s not shy to being in the joint community,” Lt. Gen. Tuck said. “He’s not shy at all to what the mission at Dover needs in terms of supporting airmen, civilians and the total force that’s here.”

Lt. Gen Giovanni Tuck (left) hands the command flag to Col. Joel Safranek.

Col. Safranek was eager to get started on his new journey at DAFB.

“My wife and I are absolutely excited about this assignment,” Col. Safranek said. “I’ve never been assigned to Dover before but have talked to some service members who have and they all had wonderful things to say about this unique base, so we’re looking forward to it.

“A couple of things I’m looking forward to really is the mission. I’ve been a part of airlift wings before … everything from the combat operations to everything that we end up doing throughout the world.”

Col. Safranek comes to Dover after serving as vice commander of the 621st Contingency Response Wing headquartered at Joint Base McGuire-Dix in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

While serving as the 621st CRW commander, Col. Safranek led 1,500 airmen assigned to two contingency response groups and one air mobility advisory group, whose deployed airmen provide theater-wide air mobility command and control, airbase opening, airfield assessments and contingency load planning.

Col. Safranek was commissioned in 1996 through the Air Force Academy and has served in positions at the squadron, group, wing and higher-headquarters levels, to include detachment command, squadron command and combatant command deputy director.

He has been deployed in support of nine different operations, including Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was promoted to colonel in August 2015.

He said his new position at Dover won’t be entirely new to him.

“It still deals with airlift and contingency response mission,” he said. “It really gets you set up and prepared for being ready in 12 hours to be any place at any time in the world.

“The reality is these aircraft are going to follow those forces in and do whatever the Air Mobility Command needs to do.”

Lt. General Giovanni Tuck (3-star general), commander of the 18th Air Force flew in from Scott AFB, Illinois to conduct the change of command ceremony at Dover AFB.

Col. Safranek said Dover will offer some unique challenges, as it is home to more than 4,200 active military personnel, as well as 1,200 civilians and 2,500 reservists who work at the air base.

In his first message to the base, the new wing commander thanked the airmen, families and community who make up Team Dover.

“A lot of times ceremonies are dedicated to thanking people and I really want to take a moment today to talk about that,” Col. Safranek said. “Commanders thanking people is very common today … My fear is that you’ve all heard it so often for the great things you do and continue to do every day, that any sort of heartfelt appreciation may be overlooked.

“Please know that the immense amount of time and work put into such a special event as this is not taken lightly on my or my family’s behalf.”

For Col. Griffin, it was a bittersweet day as he said goodbye to the airmen and friends he met in his two years at Dover. He has served as commander of the 436th Airlift Wing since August 2016.

His next assignment will be as commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

Col. Griffin was decorated with the Legion of Merit medal by Lt. Gen. Tuck before he officially relinquished his command.

The Legion of Merit is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.

Dover’s “Eagle Wing” is a subordinate of the 18th Air Force headquartered with the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base. The Eagle Wing consists of operations, maintenance, mission support and medical groups and 14 staff divisions.

Col. Griffin fondly looked back on all the memories and relationships he built at Dover within the span of two years.

“In short, it’s been absolutely spectacular for (my wife) Erin and the boys and I,” he said, of his time in Dover. “We will always have a place in our heart for you and for Dover.

“We have an amazing team. We here at Dover have made readiness not just an acronym, but something real. We made it a state of mind, making our nation’s leaders stronger at the bargaining table.”

During his command, the 436th AW generated more than 30,000 flight hours, airlifted 200 million pounds of cargo and transported 40,365 passengers.

Col. Griffin also started several airmen-centric initiatives, such as the Transition Summit and the Spouse Symposium, focused on recruitment, retention and transition of service members’ careers.

The wing completed a monumental $120 million, 22-month runway reconstruction project intended to extend the runway’s lifespan by at least 50 years under Col. Griffin’s watch.

The wing also earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award under his leadership.

“During my time with the Eagle Wing, I have been honored to serve alongside some of the nation’s most dedicated, professional and positive airmen, civilian and uniformed alike,” Col. Griffin said.

“To the mighty Eagle Wing team, all our mission partners and the community, you are all absolutely wonderful and a testament to delivering excellence in everything you do. We will always call you home. Aim high with great Dover pride, Eagle Wing.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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