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Rosecrans commander: We are resilient, innovative and resourceful

Col. Michael Pankau assumed command of the 139th Airlift Wing Aug. 19, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Shannon Bond)

Col. Michael Pankau assumed command of the 139th Airlift Wing Aug. 19, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Shannon Bond)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo -- The 139th Airlift Wing spent much of the year fighting the Missouri River flood waters, supporting overseas contingency operations in Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom and helping the state recover from severe weather. A change in leadership also occurred as Col. Michael Pankau became the Wing's tenth commander in August. As the summer was drawing down, Pankau offered his perspective on the accomplishments of the past year and the challenges in the next.

Q: What have been the significant accomplishments for the Wing this year?

PANKAU: The Air Expeditionary Force package started out the year by being deployed. We had 168 members from Operations and Maintenance operating in Afghanistan. They accomplished some of the most challenging missions that the 139th has ever faced or that any C-130 unit has. So my hat's off to those folks and the 83 others who deployed for overseas contingency operations this year. But that was just how we started off the year. We had the security challenges that came with the death of Bin Laden, with our security forces tightening up security here. Right about that time, we also learned of the Army Corps of Engineers' release of a record flow of water down the Missouri, and we postured up the base for a flood fight.

Q: You have spent much of the year sitting in for Col. McEnulty. What will be your focus now that you are Wing Commander?

PANKAU
: The short-term focus obviously is putting the base back in place after all of our equipment was secured off base and after having our aircraft operating from Kansas City International Airport. So it's getting everything back here. Then we will need to ensure our self inspection program is still on the same track as it was from our last successful unit compliance inspection. That's something that needs to be done as soon as a wing commander takes over. We also need to conduct a climate survey so that we can determine where we are at. It's an outstanding wing that has performed very well, and I am proud to be a member of the 139th. In the long run, we will complete the Avionics Modernization Program (AMP); it's quite a mission change for us.

Q: What is the Wing's progress regarding the cockpit upgrades in the C-130H models?

PANKAU: One aircraft is in modification right now. Our second aircraft was to be inducted in July. That's slipped back six months, and it will be leaving the first part of February. It's a low-rate production process, which means they are testing out the installation process, at the same time, people are competing for it. They are testing out the installation program on three different lines, and it's going to have some slowdowns. We can expect that. The program's in its infancy, so we can expect some delays along the route. Getting all 10 aircraft modernized by the AMP is going to be a long path. But it's all programmed out there, and Maintenance has a good plan out there for keeping us flying for as long as we can, keeping our readiness up. We have three aircrews down at Little Rock Air Force Base right now, learning to fly with this new cockpit configuration. So we're getting there. The 139th is the best unit to do this. We are resilient, innovative and resourceful enough to withstand the mission change.

Q: The Missouri River flood took the spotlight this summer. How did the Wing manage?

PANKAU
: We started looking at the flood knowing very well that, unlike most natural disasters, that it had a forecast river stage and duration and questioning whether the levies would hold for the three months that the water was going to be on them. I went up there today [Sept. 1] and it's now off the levee in the North and at the foot of them in the South. It's been an amazing performance by every member of the 139th team, which has been operating from seven different locations - part of the AATTC (Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center) school moved down to Fort Leavenworth; part of the school also moved down to Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Logistics worked from the leased Hallmark warehouse - by the way, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the St. Joseph community for all of the assistance they provided us this summer, and Hallmark is one good example of that - we have folks operating from the [St. Joseph] Armory for Vehicle Maintenance; and we have Fuels as well as Maintenance and Operations operating from Kansas City International Airport; we also have a lot of our heavy maintenance equipment stored with the Kansas Air Guard out near Topeka, Kan. The teams really pulled together and made this happen. But the 139th is really a group of Airmen who are a family, and it's not so much the buildings. We can move anywhere and work out of anywhere. This group is very resilient. If not, we would not have been able to make it through the last 10 years and thrive.

Q: The Wing passed its 65th anniversary this year. What changes will the next five years bring?

PANKAU: We had planned for a 65th anniversary celebration on August 22, but with what's going on, it was inconvenient, so we have full intention to make it a great event next summer, when we can celebrate with our retirees who set the foundation for this organization. Our next big event with the city is obviously going to be the air show on the 5th and 6th of May, and we will do that in conjunction with the Apple Blossom Festival. We are at the 10th anniversary of 9/11 too. It's a very sobering thought to think of all the deployments that the 139th participated in during the last 10 years. We currently have our security forces Airmen deployed to Iraq, and the number of people we have deployed right now, the 83 we deployed this year and the 262 that we deployed last year are just a representative sampling of what we have done for the war effort. There's no doubt about it that it has changed the organization and probably steeled it and molded it into a different organization than it was 20 years ago, at the end of the Cold War. Along those lines we are laying the ground work for an active associate squadron. There's a chance we could get a flying squadron and some maintenance personnel assigned here to share our aircraft. We drafted a proposal that will be presented to the leadership in the Air National Guard and the Air Force and elected leadership. Moving in that direction, we would also like to see a C-130 simulator at Rosecrans. So that's two of our objectives, and that's where I'm going to put my capital for future gain in the remainder of my tenure in the Air Force and Air National Guard.