Sunday in a hanger at Key Field one man passed a mantel of responsibility to another, but it wasn't a simple change of command; it was a continuation of a fight to save and improve the 186th.
After 2.5 years as Wing Commander of the longest serving Air National Guard Unit in the nation, Col. Erik Hearon relinquished his post. Hearon has guided the 186th through some very difficult times. This last August three days before Katrina struck the coastline, the 186th was placed on the BRAC realignment list.
"Nothing that any of us do out here it by ourselves. There's a team effort and in this case it involved not only the people within the wing and at the base, but the entire community came together and helped us, and that enabled us to make as much progress as we did," Col. Erik Hearon former Commander of the 186th.
As the 186th moves forward advocates was the BRAC realignment will allow for even greater things for the unit and for the community as well.
"It's in good shape and it’s gonna go forward for a long, long, long time here in Meridian it's gonna be an integral part of this community," said Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, Commander of the Mississippi National Guard.
Local and federal delegates were also represented during the ceremony, witness to the significance of the event and the importance of the 186th.
"It was very important that this base was not closed, that this unit was not closed and it shows that we are poised for a good mission for the future," said Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering.
The newly appointed wing commander, Col. Jim White is returning to his first assignment in the Air National Guard. White says he is confident that a new mission will emerge for the 186th, and that realignment will make the 186th stronger than ever before.
"I was a little uncertain when it first happened, but as we read into it and learn more about it, and see some of the restrictions, and see how our leadership is reacting to it I gain more and more confidence that we're gonna come out of this stronger," said Col. Jim White, Commander 186th ARW.
White also vowed that Meridian will continue as a vital and indispensable part of our national defense.