Year of the Pathfinder: A Tribute to the 423rd Air Base Group

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Spencer

“We are Pathfinders. And as we have always done, we light the way.”  To put it another way, or the way that Number 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group said it, as re-authorized in 1953, “We Guide to Strike!”  In this, Year of the Pathfinder, I refuse to allow the final month of 2020 to close without wholeheartedly agreeing.

Today, the essence of ‘guiding to strike’ lives on with the outstanding work done by another group: the 423rd Air Base Group, led by my wingmen Col. Richard Martin, Lt. Col. Clifford Bayne, and Chief Master Sgt. David Southall. Their hundreds of Airmen guide us to strike every single day. Faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor, atop this mighty group are three professionals that I have grown to admire, respect, and follow. 

I’m confident they would agree, guiding to strike is made easier because of the amazing Airmen under their command.

It is well to remind readers, before enumerating the many accolades of their Airmen, that I too am an Airman. Though serving currently in a joint command, I have always been and always will be an Airman…simply looking at the embroidered tag over my heart while in uniform is a proud reminder.  Prouder still, is my beaming pride when I see the day-to-day work of the Airmen of the 423rd ABG.

This commentary is about them and about you, the Airmen of the 423rd ABG. My wingmen, leaders, warriors, lighting and guiding each day.

To the defenders, doctors, medical technicians, and dentists; to the communication troops, engineers, and the force support Airmen; to the civilians, our spouses, and housing office:

You have devoted 8,760 hours over 365 days, 24 hours each day, guarding our bases and protecting our lives, mission, and families. A defender draws their weapons from the armory before standing guard, performing perimeter checks, and responding to alarms over a 12-hour shift, then returning to the armory to return their weapons.  I thank you, my wife thanks you, and my 2-and-a-half-year-old thanks you. We all thank you for guiding the strike.

Senior Master Sgt. Burkeen lit the way by remedying a specific obstacle to a father by providing the family the ability to pick up his child from afternoon care services. I thank him, the father thanks him, the mother thanks him, and the child thanks him.

The 423rd Medical Squadron served 8,000 patients this year. The year that the pandemic could have thrown them off the path…instead the doctors, the medical technicians, and the nurses lit the path.  The 423rd MDS commander, Lt. Col. Beth Hoettels, led her unit through the pandemic’s initial avalanche of medical needs and guided the strike for all of us.

Tech. Sgt. Robert Bell, 423rd MDS noncommissioned officer in charge of medical standards, did something unsung by most. He facilitated training and access to Army medical systems of record so providers could update Soldier profiles. Now, Soldiers’ time on those profiles can be addressed and treatment can be better monitored. I thank you, Tech. Sgt. Bell. Our Soldiers thank you. You lit the way.

There is “NO bomb, without Comm”! This year, the 423rd Communications Squadron’s voice shop conducted a total of 128 phone repairs. Could you imagine if the Pathfinders of World War II could not depend on reliable communications with the bomber formations after they dropped the flares over the target area? And so today, as it was so many decades ago, communication guides the strike!

The 423rd Civil Engineering Squadron tackled an astounding 3,592 reactive and preventative maintenance repairs to facilities on RAF Molesworth during the Year of the Pathfinder. Engineers fixed leaky roofs, repaired HVACs, kept the lights on, and are developing more permanent solutions to address COVID-19 mitigation in our workspaces. In perhaps no truer embodiment, civil engineering lights the way. But, more than that, their work directly impacts our work life quality.

At one point this year, the cypher-locked gate in front of USAFRICOM on RAF Molesworth stopped working. This was quite an inconvenience and a security issue but especially for our two employees with service dogs. You might imagine how hard it is to squeeze a large dog through a turnstile. Well, the civil engineers considered it done and came over late one afternoon to repair the cypher lock. In this instance, they unlocked the way…opened the path. 

Then, there is the monumental work performed by the 423rd Force Support Squadron. The 423rd FSS managed the reception and distribution of 18,226 pieces (234,503 pounds) of mail for base customers. If my math is correct, that’s over 115 tons and indeed a heavy lift. 

Speaking of “lighting the way”, how about a lightning round of other 423rd FSS totals: 31,956 customers at New York Pizza & Deli (NYPD), 13 outdoor recreation programs including 132 lake passes, and over $52,000 in a funding stream used to purchase new equipment and affordable services that could be offered to customers at a lower cost. 

Mrs. Angela Spatz, in the 423rd Airman & Family Readiness Center, ensured one of our separating Army NCOs fine-tuned his resume resulting in approval of all VA entitled benefits.   The result was 100% in benefits and the landing of a lucrative job on the outside. Now, his young family and newborn can transition far easier than they would have, had it not been for Angela’s dedication and selfless service.

If the Secretary of Defense says military readiness is our number one priority, then Mr. Marcel Gibson and Mr. Mark Wright answered our nation’s call. These two gentlemen were indispensable in transferring $120,000 worth of gym equipment to the Molesworth self-help gym in during 2020.  Moreover, they worked diligently to transform the facility into a fully functioning Air Force approved fitness center. On behalf of all of our team, we thank you!

The kicker to all of these accomplishments and fantastic support during the Year of the Pathfinder, is the fact the team accomplished all of these tasks and services during a pandemic.  A pandemic that has tried us all: our health, patience, resolve, and resilience. It begs the question, would we have been able to do our mission without the 423rd ABG? The answer is a resounding, no! Had you not provided the light during this most difficult year, we may not have found our way; had you not guided our team, we may not have contributed to the “strike” on the African continent; had the men and women of the 423rd ABG not performed with devotion, selflessness, and care in so many instances, we simply would not have accomplished our mission.

A heartfelt thanks from all you serve! Go forth and continue to “Light the Way, Pathfinders”!