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720th Special Tactics Group welcomes new commander

Col. Brad Thompson (right), new 720th Special Tactics Group commander, accepts the unit's flag from Lt. Gen. Donny Wurster (left), Air Force Special Operations Command commander, during the 720th STG change of command ceremony July 1 at Hurlburt Field. Col. Marc Stratton relinquished command of the Air Force's only special tactics squadron and leaves Hurlburt Field to become commander, U.S. Military Group, Chile, at the U.S. embassy in Santiago. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephanie Jacobs)

Col. Brad Thompson (right), new 720th Special Tactics Group commander, accepts the unit's flag from Lt. Gen. Donny Wurster (left), Air Force Special Operations Command commander, during the 720th STG change of command ceremony July 1 at Hurlburt Field. Col. Marc Stratton relinquished command of the Air Force's only special tactics squadron and leaves Hurlburt Field to become commander, U.S. Military Group, Chile, at the U.S. embassy in Santiago. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephanie Jacobs)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The Air Force's only special tactics group welcomed a new commander today during a ceremony at the Hurlburt Field Air Park.

Col. Brad Thompson assumed command of the 720th Special Tactics Group from Col. Marc Stratton during the ceremony, presided over by Lt. Gen. Donny Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.

"This, like all changes of command will be a brief, but historic ceremony," General Wurster said. "The change in the mantle of leadership is significant, but it represents a brief ripple in the current of an organization like the 720th Special Tactics Group.

"You are doing things right and I expect to see continued success as you build on the successes of the past," he said.

Colonel Stratton, who was awarded the Legion of Merit during the ceremony, had high praises for the Airmen and civilian employees he led since taking command of the unit in August 2006.

"To the men and women of special tactics, I salute you," said Colonel Stratton. "Never in my two years here did I hear the words 'that's not my job'... You are simply the best."

The 720th STG has seven squadrons with more than 900 combat controllers, pararescuemen, special operations weathermen and support personnel.

"It's a tall order to take this group, and I'm up to the challenge," said Colonel Thompson. "To the men and women of the 720th STG...it's a privilege and honor to be your boss.
As the unit's new commander, Colonel Thompson is responsible for the training, support, and worldwide deployment of Battlefield Airmen to support a variety of special operations missions, providing special tactics forces for worldwide deployments.

"The joint partners who depend on their combat control teammates to connect to air have high expectations, whether they need lift, medical evacuation or fire support," said General Wurster. "They turn to one of our Airmen to deliver the goods.

"There are countless stories of our Airmen making the critical difference at the critical time," said the general of the unit's combat controllers. "During my travels, more than once the ground force commander has pulled me aside to tell me that he would not be here today, were it not for the guy over there in the red beret."

General Wurster also commented on the work of the group's pararescuemen.

"On the PJ side, we have begun to see an upslope in the training and certification of PJs," he said. "Efforts by the Air Force and Air Education and Training Command have increased production within this difficult pipeline... For combat search and rescue, like everything we pursue in special operations, we need to organize, train, and equip for excellence in execution and a no-fail standard of performance."

Special operations weathermen compose the third group of operators in the 720th STG. Their mission of gathering and interpreting weather data and providing intelligence from deployed locations while working with Air Force and Army special operations forces, is a mission area in which General Wurster said, "the correct combination of the right humans and the right hardware are the key to moving ahead in this important mission area."

Like the rest of AFSOC, the 720th STG is constantly evolving, whether it means revamping training, developing new tactics or taking on new missions. Colonel Thompson is taking the reigns of the 720th STG as the unit prepares to gain a portion of the Air Force's Tactical Air Control Party Airmen.

"(TACPs) represent a new specialty on our AFSOC battlefield Airman team, but their reputation with the Rangers and others is well established," said General Wurster. "As the Air Force adapts to more closely integrate with future Army combat formations and structure, they will need many more TACPs to meet that requirement."

Prior to taking command of the 720th STG, Colonel Thompson served as the 720th STG deputy commander.

Colonel Stratton's next assignment will take him to South America where he will serve as commander, U.S. Military Group, Chile, at the U.S. embassy in Santiago.