WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo --
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Hodges assumed command of the 303rd Fighter Squadron from outgoing squadron commander Lt. Col. Rick Mitchell during a change of command ceremony August 7, 2021, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
Military change-of-command ceremonies are a time-honored tradition that formally symbolize the continuity of authority as the command passes from one individual to another. The transfer of command is physically represented by handing the command flag, the tangible symbol of the unit, from the outgoing commander to the new.
During Mitchell’s two-plus years of command, he led the fighter squadron through a combat deployment to the Middle East, countless temporary duty assignments working with the joint force, a global pandemic, and the tragic loss of a fellow fighter pilot. Mitchell has assumed a new leadership role as the deputy commander, 442d Operations Group.
Mitchell thanked his wife, Rachel, and their children for supporting the “late nights, early mornings, missed events, endless understanding, and appreciation of the position”. He said commanding the 303rd was “truly a dream come true.” “Getting to command your first ever fighter squadron is as special as it gets for a fighter pilot.” He thanked the men and women under his leadership for volunteering to serve in a “time and again, combat proven fighter squadron.”
Col. Michael Leonas, the commander of the 442 OG, and officiant for the ceremony, thanked Mitchell for his “incredible leadership, focus on the mission, and enduring care for your people.”
When addressing the squadron, Leonas said Hodges “wants to progress the mission capabilities of the 303rd. Buster wants the moral obligation to take care of the families, and most importantly, Buster wants to be the commander of the 303rd Fighter Squadron not for him, but for us.”
Hodges, a Missouri local and Holden High School graduate thanked his family and friends in attendance. Graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in 1998, flying F-15C’s and then the A-10C, he said he was humbled and honored to take on his new role.
When addressing the 303rd Fighter Squadron, he said:
“This squadron, through your countless exploits of courage and valor, has already written itself into the proud and ever-expanding history of American resolve. Now, as we emerge from two decades of counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East, the only certainty we are afforded is that our future is, in fact, uncertain. But neither threat nor peril will stand idly by for very long, before they take new form and again endanger our nation and its people. We must be prepared. Prepared to fulfill the solemn oath we all took to defend our nation’s call—for she will call on us again. As I take command of the World’s Greatest Fighter Squadron, I stand with you to accept our Nation’s charge. In doing so, you will continue to forge this squadron’s legacy of excellence, commitment, service, and sacrifice. We are the beacon of liberty that ventures into the darkness of tyranny.”
The 303rd Fighter Squadron stood up on May 28, 1943, and activated on September 1, 1943, and originally provided airlift support of Allied forces in Europe during World War II using cargo aircraft and gliders. Today, the 303rd Fighter Squadron flies the A-10C Thunderbolt II and coordinates with special operations forces to provide close air support, combat search and rescue, forward air control, forward area arming and refueling point, and expeditionary combat support functions all over the world.