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176 Wing commander promoted to brigadier general

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Brig. Gen. Donald S. Wenke, commander of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, receives his general officer flag from Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, Alaska's adjutant general, at a ceremony here June 2, 2013. National Guard photo by Capt. John Callahan.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Brig. Gen. Donald S. Wenke, commander of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, receives his general officer flag from Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, Alaska's adjutant general, at a ceremony here June 2, 2013. National Guard photo by Capt. John Callahan.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Brig. Gen. Donald S. Wenke, commander of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, receives his oath of office from Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, Alaska's adjutant general, at a ceremony here June 2, 2013. National Guard photo by Capt. John Callahan.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Brig. Gen. Donald S. Wenke, commander of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, receives his oath of office from Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, Alaska's adjutant general, at a ceremony here June 2, 2013. National Guard photo by Capt. John Callahan.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The commander of the 176 Wing was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in a ceremony at the Frontier Theatre here today.

Brig. Gen. Donald S. Wenke has led the 176 Wing since September 2011. Before assuming command in 2011, Wenke served as the organization's vice commander. A former fighter, tanker and instructor pilot, he previously served as commander of the Alaska Air National Guard's Eielson-based 168th Air Refueling Wing.

The promotion ceremony followed the wing's annual awards ceremony. Maj. General Thomas Katkus, who as Alaska's Adjutant General is commander of the Alaska Air and Army National Guard, administered the oath of office to Wenke. His general's stars were pinned to his uniform by his wife, Col. Wendy Wenke, the vice commander of the 168th Air Refueling Wing; son Spc. Coleman Wenke, who serves with B Company of the Alaska Army National Guard; and son Jason, a sophomore and JROTC cadet at Ben Eielson High School.

Having a general officer leading the wing means that the wing will have a stronger voice at the national level, Wenke noted.

"It gives us additional credibility when discussing and advocating for the future of the organization. Where we were listeners, we now become speakers," he said.

"This wing sets itself apart right upfront from almost every other Air National Guard wing by the diverse missions that we have, from air control and air sovereignty to search and rescue, tactical airlift and strategic airlift," he noted. "You take all those different mission sets on the operations side of the house, and you add to it our incredible mission-support and maintenance folks who take care of everything, and our medical people who make sure we get the care we need -- that's what sets us apart. We have this dynamic mission set that's in front of us. And the second thing is, we do it every day. We have multiple 24/7, 365-day missions, including air control and air defense; and of course the rescue mission, from the Rescue Control Center to the aircraft and helicopter crews and the Guardian Angels who stand alert around the clock to serve both the civilian and military communities in time of need."

"So first and foremost I'm honored to be a Midnight Sun Guardian," he said. "And I'm honored to be called the leader of the Midnight Sun Guardians."

Wenke said watching the outstanding achievements of the wing's airmen have provided him with his most meaningful moments during his time as commander.

"I had a good friend tell me one time that everyone needs to look inside and figure out what it is that pushes them to continue to serve," he said. "What is that flame inside you? And for me, it's simply this: The men and women of the organization I serve with. It's the pride that they have, the enthusiasm they show and the excellence they achieve. Days like today, when we got to recognize their outstanding achievements for 2012, those are just the greatest days of my life and the times when I feel most honored to stand there and recognize these folks for their outstanding achievements."

"Every piece of excellence that we achieve is everybody's moment -- not just one person's, not just one team's, but the entire organization's," he said.

At approximately 1,380 members, the 176 Wing is the largest of Alaska's two Air Guard wings and among the largest and busiest Air Guard wings in the country.

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