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Military heritage: the change of command ceremony

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Caleb Worpel
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
– Throughout the Air Force, there are hundreds of change of command ceremonies each year. From squadron, group, wing and major command levels, the primary purpose of a change of command ceremony is to allow subordinates to witness the formal command change from one officer to another.

According to Richard Griset Jr., 56th Fighter Wing historian, summertime is the season when most change of command ceremonies take place because of the Air Force’s rotation cycle.

“Most commanders are in command of a given unit for approximately two years,” Griset explained. “Some stay three years and some change after a year. Commanders serve as commanders because they were chosen and supported by higher commanders.”

Today, typical Air Force change of command ceremonies include a presentation of the colors, remarks by each member of the official party, passing of the guidon, singing of the Air Force song, as well as a first and last salute from both the outgoing and incoming commander, Griset said. As stewards of our nation’s treasure, Thunderbolts continue celebrating the heritage of the military and the Air Force through change of command ceremonies.

“The reason is to show the entire unit change in authority,” Griset said. “Each commander brings something different to the unit. It is important that all members of the unit have the chance to see the new commander, so they know who he or she is by sight.”

The history of change of command ceremonies is mostly unknown but has similarities to events dating back hundreds of years.

“While there were changes of command in the ancient world, my understanding is the modern change of command ceremony comes to us from the Middle Ages,” Griset said. “When leadership changed out, a change of command ceremony was held so that all of the men in the company would see the new commander and witness the change in authority. Over the years, things have been added to the typical
Air Force changes of command I have seen. However, as similar as each change of command seems, each one is different.”

Griset was the former commander of the 405th Equipment Maintenance Squadron at Luke and has seen firsthand how the ceremonies celebrate military heritage and the impact they can have on units.

“Changes of command are both happy and sad events,” Griset explained. “Many units have the same mission year after year. The change of command is a defining moment in the lives of the incoming and outgoing commanders as well as the unit.”

As leadership changes, our vision remains the same -- develop Airmen and train fighter pilots. Airmen focusing on military culture with a campaign mindset is an integral part in changing the Air Force from the 56th Fighter Wing and building the future of Airpower.