The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

June 8, 2014

Time has passed all too quickly

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — On the June morning in 2012 when Col. Darren James took command of 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, he made a promise to those assembled.

“Our focus areas will be mission, people and fun,” he said.

The past two years have been fun, James said recently, and his time at Vance has passed all too quickly.

“I’m not excited to leave,” James said. “It’s been a blast for me; I hope it’s been a good time for everybody else.”

His tenure as Vance’s wing commander will end June 18, when he will relinquish his post to Col. Clark J. Quinn. The change of command ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. and will be held in hangar 199. Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Education and Training Command, will preside over the ceremony.

For James and his family, taking the Vance assignment was a homecoming of sorts. He previously had served as an instructor pilot and flight commander here from February 1996 to June 1999, wrapped around a six-month stint at Randolph AFB, Texas.

“Everybody has told me that it will go faster than you realize,” James said. “I can think back to six months ago when Melissa (Mrs. James) looked at me and said, ‘Hey, we only have six months left,’ and it seems like yesterday that she said it.

“The pace that we keep, it makes for a quick passage of time.”

James’ next assignment will be another homecoming of sorts. He will go to Scott AFB, Ill., to become the deputy J3, or operations officer, for United States Transportation Command.

“The J3 is those that are in charge of the operation, so the planning and execution of any movement of cargo or personnel, whether it is land, sea or air,” said James.

James and his family previously were assigned to Scott from June 2003 to October 2005.

His new assignment will put him behind a desk, but James said it won’t be the flying that he misses most when he leaves Vance.

“The people is what I will miss the most,” he said.

In that he included all the people at Vance, military and civilian, as well as the people of Enid.

“We can’t execute the mission that we do without all the folks that we have on this base,” said James. “That was one of our focus areas from day one, was the people. Interacting with those folks, seeing the phenomenal things they are able to accomplish when given a task, I’ll miss.”

He also said he would miss the close bond between the base and the local community.

“The fact that I get to sit at city council meetings every couple of weeks gives me a great opportunity to chat with the leaders and see what’s going on in the city,” said James.

Every three weeks, Vance conducts a graduation ceremony for another pilot training class. James will preside over his final graduation ceremony Friday, for class 14-10.

“Those that are going through training, they truly energize you every three weeks,” said James. “The fact that we get to hand out wings to between 20 and 25 individuals every three weeks is something that ‘re-blues’ you, is a term we use. It really makes you appreciate what we do in the Air Force and what we contribute to the mission set.”

Not that James won’t miss flying. He is scheduled to take his final flight at Vance Friday afternoon.

“The flying portion is something I think everybody that leaves this job will miss, as well,” he said. “And it’s not just getting out and having the opportunity to go fly, it’s the opportunity to actually be an instructor. There aren’t many colonels who have the opportunity go out and instruct pilot training students.

“The interaction with those folks, and that’s from ride one to their last ride in the program, is something I’ll definitely miss.”

James said when he leaves, he would take with him gratitude for the opportunity to be a wing commander, the impact Vance has had on the Air Force as a whole and the quality of life in Enid.

“This job, compared to some of the other potential wing commands I could have had, this has the most direct contribution to our Air Force mission,” he said. “The family atmosphere, both because of the support we have from the town and the support from the base, just the way this mission set is constructed, in my eyes it leaves you with a good feeling about where this Air Force is going.”

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