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Last updated: Tue. Aug. 05, 2014 - 01:28 am EDT

Bright days for Air Guard seen

Exiting commander says base a safe bet for elite fighter jet

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Col. David Augustine looks forward to the future of the Air National Guard base he no longer will command.

“There's going to be a new wing commander here with new ideas and different talents and different things they can bring to the wing,” Augustine told news media Monday while discussing his pending retirement.

“I think it is a dynamic time,” he said at the headquarters of the 122nd Fighter Wing he has led since early 2011.

As reported Sunday and Monday, Augustine informed Indiana National Guard officials and local airmen over the weekend that he plans to retire soon because of an unspecified medical condition that prevents him from flying. He has until mid-July 2015 to step down as base commander but said he will leave as soon as his replacement is named and assumes the post.

Augustine, 50, oversaw the conversion of the base from F-16 fighters to A-10 ground-support jets, resisted Pentagon efforts to trade the 21 Warthogs for half as many propeller intelligence planes (and far fewer airmen) and helped arrange for a future switch to newer F-16s, which could lead to attracting the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“I think when the F-16 comes here, you're going to see the opportunity to bring probably roughly 50 active-duty Air Force members here,” Augustine said about the next conversion, which is expected to occur in 2018 or 2019. “What's dynamic about that? It's been the early 1940s, in World War II, that you saw the last active-duty members here, stationed in Fort Wayne.”

More than 1,100 people are assigned to the Ferguson Road base. About 200 are preparing to deploy for an overseas mission.

“We got more people who want to join this unit than we've got slots for them,” Augustine said.

He said his other highlights at the base have included staging a public air show in 2012 and planning for another in 2016 and organizing the Fort Wayne Base Community Council, a support group for military families that has 160 participating businesses and organizations.

“I couldn't have asked for a better job to end my career on,” said Augustine, who joined the Air Guard in 1982 and flew 24 combat missions during this century's Iraq war.

Augustine said he, his wife, Havala, and their four daughters, ages 3 to 17, intend to remain in Fort Wayne after he retires. He originally came to Fort Wayne from Michigan.

“It's a wonderful community to be in,” he said.

Following are excerpts from his answers to media questions Monday afternoon:

•On the health problems or conditions that are forcing him to retire:

“They're not life-ending, right? So I'm still good to go, you know. I'll be a great civilian entity right out there, hopefully working in the corporate world here.”

•On the recent National Guard investigation into anonymous allegations that Augustine misappropriated public funds: The Guard found that the expenses in question, including speech classes, off-site seminars and holiday parties for airmen, a new sign at the base and a design for remodeling Augustine's office, are common and acceptable at military installations.

“I strongly feel in my heart that we've done everything right out here, OK? And I think as a wing commander, no different if you're a CEO in the corporate world, you should sleep well at night. And I've slept well at night.

“The decisions I've made, even though some disagree with them and it's clearly evident, I never did them to do anything wrong, to spend money on the wrong purpose. … I did them for the right reasons, for this great country, for our families out here and for the airmen that I serve.”

•On the future of the 122nd Fighter Wing being tied to the assignment of F-35 jets.

“In order to stay in fighters, you have to have lineage to get to the F-35. If you ever give up your fighters, you're not going to get another fighter, OK? Once you stop flying out here and the whole system goes away to support flying, you're done.

“And so it's very important that we get into that F-16 Block 40 and do the great things that we'll do. That airplane will take us into the future. I think the F-16s will be around a decade or so. … I think that being in fighters, a multidimensional fighter – the F-16 is air-to-air and air-to-ground, right? – that will allow us to get out to where we can be selected for the Joint Strike Fighter.”

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