Cannon command changes in emotional ceremony

Freedom New Mexico: Liliana Castillo Capt. Paul Sula, along with the others from the 16th Special Operations Squadron, honor outgoing commander of Cannon Air Force Base Col. Stephen Clark with a final salute Friday during a change of command ceremony.

Liliana Castillo

Col. Stephen Clark paused during his outgoing speech to quell a rush of emotion Friday as he bid farewell to the airmen of Cannon Air Force Base during a change of command ceremony.

Clark turned command of the base over to incoming commander Col. Albert Elton II, ending his two years in charge of Cannon’s 27th Special Operations Wing.

Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla., officiated the ceremony.

Clark, who was recently selected for promotion to brigadier general, was awarded the Legion of Merit award for his work at Cannon. The Legion of Merit is awarded to members of the armed forces for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.

“I need to thank Lt. Gen. (Donald) Wurster for his confidence in allowing me to lead this exceptional wing at this time in history,” Clark said.

Wurster recently retired as the commander of AFSOC.

During Clark’s two years at the helm, the wing has doubled the number of personnel to 5,000, added 50 aircraft and seven squadrons and executed millions of dollars in military construction as part of the base’s change in mission from a fighter wing in 2007.

“To our airmen, I have to say I could not be more proud. For the past two years, this has been arguably the busiest wing in the Air Force. No one else in the Air Force has been asked to do so much and you did it magnificently. I’m honored to have been your commander,” Clark said.

Clark’s next assignment is as director of plans, programs, requirements and assessments at Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters at Hurlburt Field.

Elton spoke about how his father flew gunships in the Army as a decorated pilot during two tours in Vietnam and his grandfather flew B-17s from England during World War II.

“They both inspired me to serve in the Air Force at a young age,” Elton said. “And I’m proud that my father is present today.”

Addressing the airmen, Elton spoke about their mission.

“Air commandos of Cannon, you know better than anyone we live in dangerous times. Your professionalism, sacrifice and competence have made a significant difference around the world,” he said.

Elton is a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a command pilot with more than 4,200 flying hours. He has commanded special operations forces at the squadron and expeditionary group levels and has held several flying and staff positions within Air Force Special Operations Command and United States Special Operations Command.

Elton was born in Fort Rucker, Ala., and most recently served as commander of the 1st Special Operations Group.

Sr. Airmen Ashely Pfleger, who has been stationed at Cannon for three years, said Clark is an excellent commander.

“I believe that he really helped this base grow a lot more considering the change a few years back,” she said.

Pfleger said she’s seen progression at Cannon in Clark’s two years.

“I’m pretty excited about a new commander and it seems we’re really going far with this base. I think operations at Cannon will pretty much stay the same as far as things progressing smoothly. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Colonel Elton, so I believe that if anything were to change it would improve,” Pfleger said.

Portales Mayor Sharon King said the ceremony was bitter sweet.

“Col. Clark has been such a delight to work with,” she said. “We got a chance to meet Col. Elton at Hurlburt a few months ago and he’s going to be a delight to work with too. He’s very excited to be here and that makes us feel good.”