Kentucky Air Guard promotes two leaders of the rank of colonel

Story by 2nd Lt James Killen, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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The wife and brother of Lt. Col. Charles Walker pin colonel’s rank to his uniform during a promotion ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., March 22, 2014. Walker, staff judge advocate for Joint Forces Headquarters Air Component, Kentucky National Guard, is the first African-American to be promoted to the rank of colonel in Kentucky Air Guard history. (U.S. Air National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Air National Guard promoted two officers to the rank of colonel during a ceremony here March 22, including its first African-American to achieve that rank.

Col. Charles Walker, the first black officer to be promoted to colonel in the organization’s history, is staff judge advocate for Joint Forces Headquarters Air Component, Kentucky National Guard. The other leader promoted, Col. Jeffrey Wilkinson, serves as vice commander of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing.

“What a fantastic day this is in the history of the Kentucky Air National Guard and, frankly, the Kentucky National Guard in general,” said Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, adjutant general for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini (left), executes the Oath of Office during a ceremony promoting Charles Walker to the rank of colonel at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., March 22, 2014. Walker, staff judge advocate for Joint Forces Headquarters Air Component, Kentucky National Guard, is the first African-American to be promoted to the rank of colonel in Kentucky Air Guard history. (U.S. Air National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

“Chuck has had a very interesting career,” Tonini told the audience of more than 200 family, friends and coworkers, “always going the extra mile” in every task he’s undertaken.

Walker began his career in the active-duty Air Force in 1991, serving until 1998 as a section commander in aircraft generation and mission support units. He also served as an executive officer and, later, the operations officer for a Military Entrance Processing Station. Walker graduated cum laude with a juris doctorate from the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago in 1999 and joined the Air Force Reserves in 2004 as a deputy staff judge advocate.

He remained in the Reserves until 2005, when Walker joined the 123rd Airlift Wing here as a staff judge advocate. He held that post until May 2013, when Walker accepted his current position at Joint Forces Headquarters.

In addition to serving as the state’s top Air Guard lawyer, Walker is director of the Air National Guard’s Contemporary Base Issues Course, a national-level seminar designed to assist commanders, supervisors and support staff in addressing everyday command and legal issues.

In civilian life, Walker is a trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice, Office of the United States Trustee, in Nashville, Tenn. He also serves on the board of directors for the Mid-South Commercial Law Institute, is a co-founder of the Credit Abuse Resistance Education program in Tennessee and is a faculty member at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C.

Remarking on the depth and breadth of Walker’s career, Tonini praised his dedication to service and excellence.

“He didn’t get (this promotion) because he is African-American, he got it because he is the best,” Tonini said.

Walker used the occasion to thank his family and friends for their support through the years, and to praise his colleagues for their commitment to the Air Force Core Values.

“This is the best airlift wing in the United States Air Force, without question,” Walker told the audience. “We can hold our own against anybody. This is a fantastic wing to serve with. What we do here is important, and we do it the right way.”

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The wife and a family friend of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Wilkinson pin colonel’s rank to his uniform during a promotion ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., March 22, 2014. Wilkinson, vice commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, is the first special tactics officer to be promoted to the rank of colonel in Kentucky Air Guard history. (U.S. Air National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Wilkinson, the 123rd Airlift Wing’s vice commander, represents a different kind of diversity, Tonini said, noting that he is the first special tactics officer in the history of the Kentucky Air Guard to be promoted to the rank of colonel.

“I know you well enough to know that you’re the kind of guy that will accept (your new role), embrace it, and do the very best,” Tonini said to Wilkinson.

The colonel began his Air Force service in 1990, receiving a commissioning through the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the Syracuse University, in Syracuse N.Y. He’s 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.

After leaving active duty, and before joining the Kentucky Air Guard full time in 2001, Wilkinson worked as a quality engineer for General Electric Appliances in Louisville.

He has participated in multiple overseas deployments, including Operation Uphold Democracy, Operation Joint Endeavor, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as numerous national exercises and natural disaster-response missions.

Prior to accepting his current post, Wilkinson served as commander of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. In that role, “he was the most most dynamic leader the special tactics squadron has had in their history,” Tonini said.

In his closing remarks, Wilkinson thanked his friends and family for their support and said he’s looking forward to the new challenges of serving as vice commander.

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Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini (left), executes the Oath of Office during a ceremony promoting Jeffrey Wilkinson to the rank of colonel at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., March 22, 2014. Wilkinson, vice commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, is the first special tactics officer to be promoted to the rank of colonel in Kentucky Air Guard history. (U.S. Air National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

“I recognize and embrace the increased responsibilities that come with this position,” he told the audience. “I will deliver all within my ability to advocate and champion for you, for our mission, and for all of our folks who contribute to the United States Air Force’s finest airlift wing.”

Walker and Wilkinson’s promotions come on the heels of Kathryn Pfeifer’s promotion to the rank of colonel in a ceremony here Aug 17. Pfeifer, director of staff for Headquarters, Kentucky Air National Guard, became the first female line officer to attain the rank of O-6 in Kentucky Air National Guard history.

All three promotions are indicative of the Kentucky National Guard’s commitment to diversity, which Tonini defined as a “readiness imperative” in a recent policy memo.

“Diversity and inclusion allow the Kentucky National Guard to benefit from the talents, abilities, ideas and viewpoints of a workforce drawn from the richness of Kentucky and American society,” Tonini said in the memo, dated March 17. “I am personally committed to making the Kentucky National Guard the service of choice for all who seek to serve our Commonwealth, our nation and its people.”

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