New commander to take over Springfield Guard base

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

caption arrowCaption
Colonel Gregg Hesterman will be the new 178th Wing Commander, Springfield Air National Guard Base.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A new leader will take over the Springfield Air National Guard Base — one of the biggest employers in the area — as the unit prepares to use more advanced aircraft and takes steps to secure its current missions in the next few years.

Col. Gregg Hesterman will take over as commander of the 178th Wing early next month, where he will be tasked with making sure the unit is well-positioned in case of a future Base Realignment and Closure Process. The base is also at the end of a lengthy transition to train pilots to move from the unmanned MQ-1 Predator to remotely fly the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper.

RELATED: New Springfield commander to prep base for new drone mission

Hesterman will take over from Col. John Knabel, who will retire after leading the Springfield base for more than a year.

The base is one of Clark County’s largest employers, with roughly 1,300 airmen. That figure includes about 350 full-time airmen and hundreds of traditional Guard members who work part-time. The base generated around $60 million in annual payroll in 2015.

A change of command ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 4.

Hesterman previously served as vice commander of the 121st Air Refueling Wing at the Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus. He said his leadership experience in Columbus and more recently in Springfield will help him manage the tasks ahead.

MORE: Lawmakers push for greater role for Springfield in drone research

“It’s about leading people so in that perspective it’s no different,” Hesterman said. “I think I can bring that skill set here and help set them up for the future.”

No concrete plans are in place, but area leaders are preparing for a potential BRAC, which could mean the closure or realignment of some military bases across the U.S. The Springfield base lost its mission training F-16 pilots during the last base review in 2005.

But it later picked up a mission operating the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft and a separate mission to collect and analyze data as part of an expansion of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

Those missions are relatively inexpensive and are at the forefront of how the Guard likely will operate moving forward, Knabel said. Airmen in Springfield have developed a reputation as experts in those missions, which he said puts the base in a good place if the BRAC process moves forward.

DETAILS: Hospital top Clark County employer, reflects statewide trend

“We’re more globally engaged today than we ever have been before,” Knabel said.

The base’s mission is different from anything they’d experienced previously, both Hesterman and Knabel said. That, along with the skill level of the local Guard members, is what they said makes the commander’s job appealing.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” Hesterman said. “It just blows me away how they handle these complex mission sets.”

READ MORE: Portman: Springfield base in good position to add missions

The drone and intelligence missions also require less space to operate compared to the former F-16 mission, Knabel said, which leaves room on the base for potential growth. It’s early, but Knabel said the base has expressed interest in acquiring a Space Control Squadron, which monitors satellite orbits and other tasks.

Guard members are nearing the end of a lengthy transition from the MQ-1 Predator to the MQ-9 Reaper. Both unmanned aircraft conduct surveillance missions but the Reaper carries a larger payload. Predators carry a single Hellfire missile. Reapers are larger, faster and can carry up to four Hellfire missiles, as well as laser-guided bombs. Reapers also have more advanced cameras for surveillance missions.

MORE MILITARY NEWS: Air Force looks to double number of drone pilots

Guard members in Springfield will stop using the Predator near the end of next month and transition to the Reaper in early December, Knabel said.

Knabel said he was also proud of efforts in recent years to improve morale throughout the base. Few options for food exist nearby so the base made food trucks available at least once a week. Senior leaders also made an effort to work more closely with younger airmen, he said, to get a clear picture of any concerns or questions about the mission or the future of the base.

Hesterman said Knabel worked closely with local elected leaders and community groups to make them more aware of what the base has to offer Springfield. He said his goal as commander will be to keep the base on its current path, further strengthen those ties with the city and make sure Guard members have the resources they need to complete their mission.

In-depth coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides unmatched coverage of the Springfield Air National Guard Base and its impact on Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories on local Guard units deployed to assist with relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after hurricanes this fall.

By the numbers:

1,300 — Estimated total employment at Springfield base

350 — Full-time Guard members

$60M — Estimated annual payroll in 2015

About the Author