KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --
The Pacific Air Commandos from the 353rd Special Operations Group welcomed their new commander during a change of command ceremony June 19 at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Col. William Freeman relinquished command of the 353rd SOG to Col. Jason Kirby, formerly 353rd SOG deputy commander.
“There is no greater sacrifice and reward than that of command,” said Kirby. “I’m committed serving the Air Commandos of the 353rd SOG and their families as we continue to defend our nation’s interests in the Pacific.”
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presided over the ceremony. Additional distinguished guests included U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Daniel Yoo, commander of Special Operations Command Pacific and Brig. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, commander of Special Operations Command Korea.
Kirby now commands more than 850 Airmen who make up the only Air Force Special Operations unit in the Pacific. After serving as deputy commander for the past year, he is no stranger to the group and its people.
“I witnessed Colonel Freeman’s steadfast commitment to the mission and Airmen and am grateful for the opportunity to have served as his deputy,” said Kirby. “As we move forward, I know I’m taking charge of the most professional and innovative Airmen the Air Force has to offer.”
Kirby is a command pilot with more than 3,100 flying hours in the MC-130J, MC-130H, C-146A, Do-328, MC-130P and C-130E. He previously led 225 U.S. personnel supporting coalition counter-terrorism operations as the commander of Joint Special Operations Air Component-Africa. Prior to this, he served on the Joint Staff J-3 as Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director for Special Operations and Counterterrorism. He has served as a joint service officer, weapons officer, evaluator pilot, and on the JSOAC-Iraq staff.
“It’s not easy departing Okinawa after these past two years of serving with the finest,” said Freeman. “However, it’s much easier because of the leadership team who’s taking over. After getting to know Colonel Kirby for these past 10 months, I know he is undoubtedly the right person, at the right time, for this job.”
The group maintains a worldwide mobility commitment, participates in Pacific theater exercises as directed and supports humanitarian and relief operations. Its five squadrons are all based at Kadena and missions include operating and flying the MC-130H Combat Talon II and MC-130J Commando II aircraft, as well as special tactics, specialized operations support and maintenance.
The 353rd SOG is prepared to conduct a variety of high-priority, low-visibility missions. In addition, the group develops wartime and contingency plans, which effectively use the full range of fixed wing capabilities, to include the infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of U.S. and allied special operations forces.
The outgoing commander reflected on his time at the 353rd SOG as commander.
“We’ve overcome many challenges together these past two years. Through integrating six new aircraft without taking a knee, responding to multiple crises, pushing liaisons to joint headquarters, partnering with Marines on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, conducting countless typhoon evacuations, and writing the procedures for MC-130 formation events, you never lost your focus,” said Freeman. “You all understand why we’re here and are truly a forward deployed air arm of U.S. Special Operations Command as theater experts covering down on 52 percent of the globe.”
Freeman leaves Kadena for an AFSOC Headquarters assignment at Hurlburt Field, Fla.