Keeping it in the family: Col. Jones takes Dover AFB command

Maj. Gen. Sam C. Barrett, commander of the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, hands the 436th Air Wing guidon to Col. Matthew E. Jones as he took command of the “Eagle Wing” from Col. Joel Safranek during a Change of Command ceremony at Dover Air Force Base on Tuesday. 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs/Roland Balik

DOVER — It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Col. Matthew E. Jones was born with his Air Force blues on — that is just how much of a legacy his family has built within the flying branch of the U.S. armed forces.

Surrounded by hundreds of airmen, as well as 39 members of his family and closest friends, Col. Jones became commander of the 436th Airlift Wing — also known as the “Eagle Wing” — in a Change of Command ceremony that took place inside the 436th Aerial Port Squadron on Tuesday morning.

Maj. Gen. Sam C. Barrett, 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. Joel Safranek before he passed it on to Col. Jones, symbolizing the official transfer of command. Both men received standing ovations.

It was a rare in-house promotion for the Air Force as Col. Jones, who had served as the vice-commander of the 436th since July 2018, was promoted to his new position. He said he is looking forward to his extended stay in Delaware’s capital city.

“If you didn’t grow up in the military you would think that’s pretty normal, where the No. 2 grows up to be No. 1,” Col. Jones said.
“Our line of work is actually somewhat unique that I got to do this,” he said, adding that his family — who has moved five times in six years — appreciates being able to remain in Dover longer. His daughters are in elementary and middle school.

The “Eagle Wing” that Col. Jones takes command of 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. Jones will oversee around 4,445 personnel who are responsible for the operation, maintenance and support of the C-5M and C-17A cargo aircraft at Dover AFB. He will try to help the 436th maintain its role as the world’s premier airlift wing that routinely demonstrates its strength by rapidly delivering equipment and personnel across the globe.

Air Force a family tradition

Maj. Gen. Barrett told the crowd that Col. Jones’ grandfather was a B-29 radar operator and his father served 10 years on active duty in the Air Force, later as a F-15 fighter pilot. After leaving active duty his dad continued to serve in the Air Force Reserves.

Col. Jones said his family’s Air Force bloodlines run even deeper than that.

“We just knew growing up that the Jones boys would serve and, because it was an Air Force family, I knew that it was in the Air Force,” he said. “I didn’t care to be a pilot but because I was physically qualified, I served as a pilot. That translated from my grandfather and all my uncles serving that were here (at the ceremony), and my dad, because he stayed in the Air Force Reserves.

The Dover Air Force Base Honor Guard presents the colors at the beginning of the Change of Command ceremony inside the 436 Aerial Port Squadron on Tuesday morning. 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs/Roland Balik

“My older brother was a lieutenant in the Air Force, I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy and my younger brother entered boot camp at the Air Force Academy and for one day, all four Jones boys served at the same time. Then, you blink your eyes and I’m the one that’s still serving.”

While Col. Jones might not have wanted to be a pilot at first, he served as the mission command of a flight where the new C-5M Super Galaxy set 46 aviation world records, helping the C-5 become the airplane with the most aviation world records on earth.

His operational assignments include serving as a C-5 Instructional Pilot, Contingency Response Operations Officer and C-5M Squadron Commander. Prior to Dover Air Force Base, he was chief of the Global Mobility Division in Arlington, Virginia. There, he served as the Career Field Manager for 5,500 mobility pilots and navigators and was the Team Leader for the Aircrew Crisis Task Force.

Maj. Gen. Barrett said he is confident that Col. Jones will keep the 436th airlift mission on course. He also tipped his hat to Dover’s airmen.

“I’ve seen first-hand the lengths this team goes through to get the mission done to include in the middle of the night — it’s impressive,” Maj. Gen. Barrett said. “You guys knock it out of the park time and time again.

“We all know what’s on the line. Our job is to defend the nation against a multitude of threats. You (airmen) are the heart and soul of a lethal and ready force that ensures American’s continued prosperity.”

New challenge for Safranek

Meanwhile, Col. Safranek, who had served as commander of the 436th since May 2018, departs Dover AFB to become the deputy director of the Strategic Plans, Policy and Logistics Division within U.S. Transportation Command at Scott AFB.

Under Col. Safranek’s leadership, the wing hosted the 2019 Thunder Over Dover Air Show and Open House, flew more than 5,000 sorties, including over 1,100 in support of combat operations and earned the 2019 Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.

“This has been absolutely the highlight of my career and my family and I are so grateful to both the city and the base,” said Col. Safranek. “I’m very, very proud of what our airmen are doing. We’ve got the momentum going from the previous commander and cemented the air show as a recurring event at Dover and we opened up the gates (during an open house) to over 40,000 people last year.
“We’ve also doubled down on innovation. The goal is to open permanent innovation facilities at Dover.”

During his time at Dover, Col. Safranek also helped bring back the tradition of painting dedicated crew chief’s names on the sides of airplanes, oversaw some demanding base exercises — including one in which the base took down electrical power — and helped bring funding to a new school in base housing as well as a new large-scale hangar that is in the process of development.

Col. Safranek was decorated with the Legion of Merit medal for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements by Maj. Gen. Barrett before he officially relinquished his command.

Looking for smooth transition

Col. Jones said that since he is not coming to his new position from another outpost, the transition should go a little smoother.
“Knowing that I now have more of an extended opportunity you’re allowed to look a little bit longer-term and they allow for those partnerships and friendships to be a little bit more than service-deep, a little bit more genuine, and I’m able to keep the momentum of my predecessor going because those weren’t all his things that he worked on, we worked on many of those things together,” he said
“If all this works well hopefully the people in the Air Force can see this as something that wasn’t a risk or gamble. It’s something that you can both take care of the family, and it benefits the mission of the base.”

Col. Jones admitted that each change of leadership case is a different set of variables.

“Sometimes organizations deliberately need a change agent and sometimes the best way for that would be to have a complete outsider,” he said. “Even this model is not one that’s the right situation in every single instance, but if I literally made a ledger of the opportunities versus many of the challenges of this structure, the positives really outweigh the negatives.

“We’re excited. We physically moved one house next door and we’re ready to go.”

Now he just has to get his new office — the one with the DAFB 436th commander nametag on its door — in order.