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Published: Monday, 3/3/2014 - Updated: 9 months ago

Baker takes reins of 180th Fighter Wing

West Point graduate called ‘ideal fit’ for the guard unit

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, state adjutant general, left, hands over command to Col. Craig R. Baker during Saturday’s ceremony at the base in Swanton. Departing commander Col. Steven S. Nordhaus, right, left the base at the end of 2013 to take a post in Washington. Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, state adjutant general, left, hands over command to Col. Craig R. Baker during Saturday’s ceremony at the base in Swanton. Departing commander Col. Steven S. Nordhaus, right, left the base at the end of 2013 to take a post in Washington.
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Col. Steven Nordhaus knowingly pointed to the hundreds of airmen of the 180th Fighter Wing on Sunday when he was commended for a job well done by Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard.

The credit is all theirs, the departing commander seemed to say.

At a change of command ceremony filled with symbolism and tradition, Colonel Nordhaus handed over the reins of the unit to Col. Craig R. Baker, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who most recently served as vice wing commander for the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Colonel Baker comes to Toledo as a newly sworn-in member of the Ohio National Guard.

“I know we have an outstanding leader here in Colonel Baker,” Major General Ashenhurst said. “He has a unique pedigree for a commanding officer of a National Guard unit. He is an ideal fit for the 180th.”

She noted that it is an important time for the Air National Guard, a post-conflict period during which its services are needed more despite strained budgetary conditions.

“In the future, our air guard units will be called upon to do more, not less, to ensure mission success,” she said.

Colonel Nordhaus, who became commander of the 180th in 2011, left Toledo at the end of the year to become executive assistant to the chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington.

As his final act at the 180th, he delivered a tribute to the men and women who served under his command, calling them “the best airmen on the planet.”

“Teamwork, inclusion, tenacity are not just words,” Colonel Nordhaus said. “They’re visible in your actions every day at this great base.”

Colonel Baker, for his part, quickly broke the ice with his new staff, making a joke about his short stature.

“This really is an honor,” he told the crowd. “Just the word ‘awesome’ describes it perfectly.”

Colonel Baker said he hopes to engender the kind of community support the 180th has enjoyed for many years.

Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins was among the local officials in attendance for the change of command ceremony. He said afterward that while the Guard base sits outside the city limits at Toledo Express Airport near Swanton, it’s vital to Toledo.

“This air base is significant in terms of the opportunities it provides in terms of our economy, and the pride that is found here is typical of Toledoans,” the mayor said, adding, “I think Colonel Nordhaus has led this this community and the 180th with distinction, and it would be my hope that I could capture the quality and the core values that he has led with in my tenure as mayor. I welcome Colonel Baker and I look forward to working with him.”

According to the 180th Fighter Wing’s annual report, which was released Sunday, the unit contributed more than $110 million to the overall economy, of which some $95 million impacted the local area.

Payroll for fiscal 2013 totaled some $55 million for 148 Active Guard Reservists, 817 Drill Status Guardsmen, 37 state employees, and 289 federal technicians.

Colonel Baker wrote in the annual report that more than 300 members of the 180th were deployed to locations throughout the world last year, including the wing’s Aerospace Expeditionary Force which was sent to Djbouti, Africa, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While deployed to Djbouti, the wing received an unscheduled assignment to Azraq, Jordan.

“The men and women of the 180th Fighter Wing executed this short-notice challenge brilliantly,” he wrote, “and moved 221 personnel, eight F-16 Fighting Falcons, and 250 tons of support equipment to stand up a bare base in less than 72 hours.”

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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