VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. —
“A fighter pilot’s fighter pilot,” took command of the 71st Flying Training Wing Wednesday morning in a ceremony at Vance Air Force Base.
Col. Clark J. Quinn became the 36th commander of 71st Flying Training Wing after accepting the wing guidon, or banner, from Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Education and Training Command.
Quinn takes over from Col. Darren V. James, who has been wing commander at Vance since June 2012. Quinn is a combat veteran with more than 2,500 flying hours in the F-15, F-16 and T-38. He has flown combat missions over Iraq and Libya.
“Wow, I know I’m getting way old for this business when one of my former captain IPs (instructor pilots) that I flew with when I was a colonel and wing commander, is about to take a wing command guidon (banner) from me,” said Rand. “The 71st Flying Training Wing is fortunate to have him as their next wing commander.”
Quinn previously served under Rand as an instructor pilot when Rand commanded the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.
“He knows the mission of delivering combat air power,” Rand said of Quinn. “In fact, he has a college degree in warfighting and he has been tested under fire. He was a key player in the downfall of the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya.”
He is a decorated combat veteran, having earned the Bronze Star with an leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters and the Air Medal.
“I am truly humbled and honored to stand in front of you today,” Quinn said. “As we execute the daily mission, I ask you to never lose sight of the bigger picture of these young men and women we are training here. Within a year some of them will be flying combat sorties, and within 10 or 15 they will be dominating skies and protecting the rest of us as we are enjoying our retirements.”
Quinn has been in town for only three days and had never been to Vance before. He earned his wings at Laughlin AFB, Texas, in 1999.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be here,” Quinn said. “I’m excited and looking forward to it. My first impressions of Enid are that it is a tremendously supportive community to the military. First impressions of Vance, everybody is tremendously supportive, a very welcoming community both on the base and off. And they are obviously doing an extremely good job with the mission.”
Quinn takes command at Vance at a challenging time for the Air Force, with the war in Afghanistan coming to an end and budget pressures coming from Washington.
“We’re not anticipating any significant changes in pilot training over the next couple of years,” Quinn said. “The numbers may fluctuate a little bit, 5 or 10 percent up or down, most likely down, but no significant changes.”
He acknowledged there is budget uncertainty facing all of the armed services, but said, “However, I know that our bosses and leadership, if they’re going to ask us to do the mission, they’re going to fund us enough to get the mission done.”
Quinn said he is looking forward to his new command, especially the chance to fly in the shiny T-38 that now bears his name, painted just below the cockpit.
“I think I’ll get more flying here than in my past couple of assignments,” Quinn said. “There’s a lot of flying to be had.”
Rand described James as “a brilliant senior leader in our United States Air Force,” and said “his greatest career achievement has been as your wing commander.”
“Vance Air Force Base is better today in every respect than it was 24 months ago,” Rand said of James’ tenure at the base. James took command in June 2012.
James’ next assignment will be as deputy director of Operations and Plans at Scott AFB, Ill.
Unlike Quinn, James is a tanker-transport pilot. Also unlike Quinn, who is single, James is a family man, and presented gifts to both his wife, Melissa, and daughter, McKenna, during the ceremony. Son Ryan was unable to attend Wednesday’s ceremony.
Two days after their 24th wedding anniversary, James presented Melissa with an oversized blank check to be used for a European vacation. He presented McKenna, who will enter her third high school this fall, with a small box containing the keys to a Jeep Cherokee.
“In 1990, I put on this uniform for the first time and I’ve never been more proud than every morning when I put on the patch of the 71st Flying Training Wing,” James said. “I’m proud to have served with all of you and I am humbled to have had the opportunity to lead this incredible organization.
“I want to thank you for your tireless dedication, and your excellence never ceases to amaze me.”
During the ceremony, James was presented the Legion of Merit. During his tenure, more than 700 pilots were trained and 174 airmen were deployed. In the past two years the wing flew 103,000 sorties, representing 151,000 flying hours, continuing Vance’s safety record of 1.1 million flying hours without a major mishap.�