New commander takes charge at Holloman Air Force Base

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ALAMOGORDO N.M. — Col. Justin Spears officially took the helm of the 49th Wing stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, the nation’s third-largest U.S. Air Force installation.

Spears comes from his last assignment at Columbus Air Force base in Mississippi and replaces outgoing commander Col. Ryan Keeney, who is being promoted to brigadier general and being reassigned to a base in South Korea.

The throngs of uniformed members, of what is known as “Team Holloman”, gathered inside a hangar on the base for a wing change of command – an occasion meant to symbolize the transfer of power from one commander to another on an Air Force base.

“If you compared it to something in the civilian sector, it would probably be similar to the changing of a mayor essentially, but this one has more of the military tradition and culture aspect to it,” said Capt. Miranda Simmons, who is in charge of public affairs at Holloman.

Change of command ceremonies date back to July 3, 1775, when then-General George Washington drew his sword to assume command of the Continental Army in Cambridge Massachusetts.

Simmons said they are a big deal and mark a shift in leadership on a base.

“It takes a lot of planning and every part of the wing has a role in the change of command ceremony,” Simmons said.

In May 2020, Keeney assumed command of the 49th Wing, where he oversaw the readiness of the wing, as well as life on the nation’s third-largest Air Force installation, helping steer the wing through the COVID-19 pandemic.

His leadership is also credited with getting funds to build new elementary and middle schools on the base and, last year, housing some 7,800 Afghan refugees on the base as part of Operation Allies Welcome.

Addressing the crowd at the ceremony, Keeney gave those under his command high praise for their accomplishments and for performing their duty.

“As we depart Holloman Air Force Base today and start our trek to South Korea, I want to say I am going to miss each and every one of you,” Keeney said.

Simmons said that, although it signals an end, everyone on the base is also excited about what the future holds under Spears.

“They are wanting to know and eager to meet their new commander,” she said.