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NEWS | Sept. 12, 2022

Wilkinson concludes career as special tactics officer who rose to become top Air Guardsman

By Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey L. Wilkinson concluded his military career at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base here Aug. 18, drawing an end to 28 years of service that saw him rise through the ranks to become the state’s top Air Guardsman.

A career special tactics and combat rescue officer, Wilkinson’s reputation for integrity, service and excellence spanned the Department of Defense, according to Army Maj. Gen. Haldane B. Lamberton, adjutant general of the Kentucky National Guard.

For the past three years, Wilkinson served as the Kentucky National Guard’s assistant adjutant general for Air, providing leadership and management of the state’s 1,200 Airmen. For 2 ½ of those years, he also served as the Air National Guard assistant to the director of operations at Air Force Special Operations Command. In this role, Wilkinson — informally known as “Wilky” — advised AFSOC on Air Guard mission capabilities and requirements, ensuring the highest levels of readiness across 10 units supporting command objectives.

“I don't think I've ever seen him stressed out,” Lamberton told an audience of more than 200 friends, family and colleagues who gathered at the base for Wilkinson’s retirement ceremony. “He's always a calm, influential and intelligent guy. For whatever we've engaged with, he’s thoroughly thought it through.

“We also shared him with the Air Force Special Operations Command for one of his other ancillary duties. He would travel down to Florida on a regular basis and became a key advisor to the three-star commander.

“Wilky is very much a special general officer, because there’s nobody else like him,” Lamberton continued. “He has visibility at the highest levels of the National Guard. By virtue of that, we were the beneficiaries — the entire organization, not just locally, but even the Department of Defense.

“So Wilky, I'm very appreciative of what you taught me and of being able to work with you. I think we're very much a better organization (because of your service).”

Lamberton then presented Wilkinson with the Distinguished Service Medal, which is bestowed upon members of the military who exhibit exceptionally meritorious performance while serving in a position of great responsibility.

Wilkinson received his commission in 1990 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. He spent most of his career in Air Force special operations, with time split between active duty, traditional Air National Guard duty and Active Guard-Reserve duty as both a special tactics and combat rescue officer. He participated in multiple overseas deployments, including operations Uphold Democracy, Joint Endeavor, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, as well as numerous national exercises and disaster-response missions. Prior to being named assistant adjutant general for Air, Wilkinson served as vice commander of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing.

As assistant adjutant general for Air, Wilkinson provided leadership and management of a diverse wing encompassing tactical airlift, special operations and contingency response units. Wilkinson also served the state full-time as deputy adjutant general and was responsible for more than 8,000 Army and Air National Guard members in all aspects of operations, personnel, equipment and funding.

Wilkinson used the occasion of his retirement to thank the men and women of the Kentucky Air Guard for their dedication and commitment to excellence.

“My message today is simple,” he told the audience. “Thank you. Thank you for who you are. Thank you for what you do, for the excellence you demonstrate day in and day out. Thank you for the enduring impact you make for American citizens abroad and here at home.

“I am truly proud of each and every one of you, and awed by your achievements. You prominently demonstrate what it is to be part of something greater than oneself. In these past three years, you have delivered on every one of five major strategic objectives.”

Those objectives included “right-sizing” units like the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and 123rd Contingency Response Group to grow staffing and capabilities; the effective implementation of statewide command-and-control for air operations during major domestic disasters; and the successful support of COVID-19 response missions across Kentucky, including the establishment of a major field hospital to treat infected patients, the provision of staffing at area health-care facilities, and the delivery of more than 197,000 vaccinations to citizens at numerous sites as part of a joint effort with the Army National Guard.

The Kentucky Air Guard also was highly effective in responding to local disasters, including devastating tornadoes and massive flooding, and in rapidly establishing a major airlift hub that received more than 11,000 incoming Afghan refugees as part of Operation Allies Welcome — all while deploying over 100 Airmen to Africa and the Middle East as part of regularly scheduled missions to augment the active-duty Air Force.

Finally, Wilkinson noted, the 123rd Airlift Wing was one of just four bases in the Air Guard to be selected by the Air Force to receive new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, replacing 30-year-old H models.

“Your persistent presence and engagement above and beyond the norm through every contingency and for every major disaster earned you the Secretary of the Air Force selection for basing our new J-model C-130 Hercules, despite strong and aggressive competition by other state leaders,” Wilkinson added. “The impact and stability for our future from this decade-long goal cannot be overstated.”

For these efforts and more, Wilkinson noted that the wing was rightly recognized with its 19th Air Force Outstanding unit award in 2021, an exceptionally rare achievement.

“Our nation needs and counts on what the 123rd Airlift Wing and Kentucky Air National Guard deliver,” he said. “You are among America’s finest.”

Wilkinson concluded his comments by thanking his family for their support, calling them “my foundation.”

“I could not have contributed to this powerful organization over these last 22 years without their support. I owe you a debt of gratitude for your love, sacrifice and support beyond which I can never fully repay.”

Brig. Gen. David J. Mounkes, who previously served as commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, has been named to replace Wilkinson as assistant adjutant general for Air.

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