OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — Offutt Air Force Base’s 55th Wing has a new leader — the first woman to command the 80-year-old reconnaissance unit. The 55th is the largest wing in Air Combat Command and the second largest in the Air Force.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that Col. Kristen Thompson took over command Tuesday, becoming the first woman among the 65 officers who have led the unit since it was established in 1941. She replaces Col. Gavin Marks, who was the first Black leader of the unit.

Marks led the 55th Wing through a tumultuous time that included the early stages of recovery from the March 2019 floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two airmen belong to the small community of pilots who fly the E-3 Advanced Warning and Control System reconnaissance aircraft, the paper reported. They have known each other for about 15 years, Marks said.

As he handed over command, Marks held Thompson’s arm aloft like a winning prizefighter, then gave her a long hug.

“You were born to lead. And this wing is ready for your leadership,” he said.

About 300 people, including Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, attended the ceremony.

Thompson, a 2001 graduate of the Air Force Academy, flew 600 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was most recently commander of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group at a base in United Arab Emirates.

The 55th Wing’s mission is “to provide dominant intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack, and nuclear command and control to national leadership and warfighters,... Anytime, Anyplace,” according to its website.

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