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Minnesota National Guard
Duluth's 148th Fighter Wing has new leader

148FW CoC Clint Austin DULUTH, Minn. - With the handing-off of the 148th Fighter Wing's flag on Saturday, Col. Jon Safstrom has become the new wing commander.

The Duluth native assumed the leadership role from Col. Frank Stokes, who is leaving Duluth after leading the 148th for more than six years to become chief of current operations at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.

During Saturday's Change of Command Ceremony at the Minnesota Air National Guard base in Duluth, Stokes passed the flag of the 148th "Bulldogs" to Brig. Gen. David Hamlar, who then passed the flag to Safstrom, symbolizing the accepting of the command.

"They're the best of the best and I'm honored to serve with them," Hamlar said of Stokes and Safstrom.

After serving on active duty in the U.S. Navy, Safstrom returned to Duluth in 1998 and moved up through the ranks of the 148th. He has served as the 148th's vice wing commander since 2010.

He said after the ceremony that he's excited for the opportunity to lead the Duluth-based unit. He brings to the commander position both experience and the time he has spent getting to know the 148th's mission and its men and women, he said, and he understands the 148th's strengths and needs. The 148th is preparing for a deployment next year and it has the resilience to do so, he said.

"Our wing has an outstanding reputation. I'm excited to step in and let them run with it," he said after the ceremony.

Hamler said Safstrom is "the right man at the right time" for the 148th as someone who understands the Minnesota National Guard, in addition to having a long and distinguished career as a highly trained pilot.

During the ceremony, Safstrom told members of the 148th that he's humbled and honored to stand in front of them as their commander.

"You're the best our nation has to offer and your professionalism and dedication inspire me," he said.

The 148th is always ready to answer the nation's call, he said. It has the best resources, but it's the people of the 148th that perform the mission, he noted.

Stokes, who has been a part of the 148th since 1991 and its commander since 2009, said after the ceremony that his tenure highlights include receiving the prestigious Raytheon Trophy to recognize the work the 148th completed in 2008, as well as changing out the 148th's planes in 2010.

When assuming the command in 2009, Stokes asked the 148th to institutionalize its reputation for excellence -- and he said Saturday that the 148th has done a good job at completing that task. Stokes said Safstrom is more than ready to keep the 148th's reputation strong.

"Bulldogs, thanks for making me the most envied commander in the National Guard. You're going to do the same for Jon Safstrom. I look forward to reading about your future success and watching you continue to impress the leaders of our nation," he said.

Over the years, the 148th has gone from an obscure unit in the Midwest to one of the best because of its dedication and efforts, he said.

"You perform so well on deployments that commanders ask for you by name," he said.

Hamler wished Stokes success in his future endeavors as he has experienced in Duluth. Stokes "almost acted like a father of the wing," Hamler said. He added, "Remember your Minnesota home."

Hamlar began his speech by noting the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday that killed at least 129 people and injured more than 350.

"The terrorist attacks in Paris last night reaffirms why we're here," he said, adding that it reminds the 148th to remain steadfast.

November 14, 2015
Lisa Kaczke, Duluth News Tribune
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