Col. Tom Dunne took command of 19 Wing Comox from Jim Benninger in a Wednesday ceremony at the base.
Dunne is a dual Canadian/American citizen who has served five operational search and rescue tours. He earned a Chief of Air Staff commendation for a search and rescue mission in Labrador in 2004, and a U.S. Coast Guard Achievement Medal for a counter-narcotics patrol in the Caribbean in 2001.
He is serving a two-year term in command of the wing.
“It will take me a bit of time to get an appreciation for where I can make my mark,” said Dunne, who is married with three teenage children. “We’re looking forward to getting into the community, and being part of the schools and the local clubs and activities.”
He and Benninger have been colleagues for many years.
“It was very good to turn over to somebody I knew was up to the task, so very happy for Tom and his wife Brenda,” said Benninger, who was first posted to Comox in 1997 and again in 2006.
He was appointed to a three-year tour as commander of 19 Wing in 2011.
“The commander of the wing is a real honour,” Benninger said. “Not only do we have to make sure we get the job done, but in the military, it’s a commander’s responsibility to be concerned with the welfare of his people. That is what we call the burden of command, is that you take these things to bed with you every night.”
He plans to work a few months in Ottawa — where he spent seven years on two different postings — and retire before Christmas in Comox.
Benninger and his wife Carolyn have a son, Logan, who was born in the Valley in 1999.
During his term as commander, Benninger recalls Aurora crews that “flew in harm’s way” for several months in an ‘op mobile’ in support of the UN protection of people in Libya.
Also noteworthy is the day-in, day-out challenges of search and rescue crews.
“It brings to mind the response that 442 squadron, under my command, provided to the sudden floods in Alberta,” Benninger said.
The wing and base staff also “responded wonderfully” to a bomb threat aboard a Korean Air plane that made an emergency landing at the Comox Valley Airport in 2012.
“After they landed on the ground we were able to get them out,” Benninger said. “The first thing that we were able to do was to get them some warm food.
“Very proud of what our people have done, and very humbled to be able to take so much positive feedback and credit for what they do.”