Importance of RAF Lakenheath emphasised as new commander takes the reigns at American air base bordering the Fens

Change of command ceremony at RAF Lakenheath - Colonel Robert Novotny. Change of command ceremony at RAF Lakenheath - Colonel Robert Novotny.

Story by: ANDREW PAPWORTH
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
12:45 PM

The new commander of RAF Lakenheath has said the importance of the American airbase remains strong he took over the prestigious role at an official ceremony.

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Change of command ceremony at RAF Lakenheath.Change of command ceremony at RAF Lakenheath.

Col Robert Novotny said there was “consistent evidence of command fingerprints across every organisation” in the area as he took charge of the 48th Fighter Wing.

The Suffolk base has faced some tough challenges in recent months, with a RAND Corporation report to the US government suggesting RAF Lakenheath should be closed as part of a military cost-cutting review.

In January it also had to deal with tragedy when one of its Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopters crashed during a training exercise at Cley, on the North Norfolk coast, killing the four crew members on board.

Yet despite the challenges and uncertainty over its future, Col Novotny said coming to Lakenheath – which has three combat-ready squadrons of the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-15C Eagle aircraft, as well as the Pave Hawks – “was absolutely my number one choice”.

Change of command ceremony at RAF Lakenheath.Change of command ceremony at RAF Lakenheath.

He added: “I always wanted to join the air force, and the 48th Fighter Wing is a mission-ready wing.

“It’s the kind of wing that I always wanted to be a part of.”

He said he had not yet had a chance to read the report into the Cley crash or the RAND document – but stressed RAND were consultants who would not make decisions about the base.

In his remarks at a change of command ceremony in front of about 700 personnel yesterday, he said: “Everywhere I went last week I saw two things – excitement about Lakenheath and consistent evidence of command fingerprints across every organisation.”

Having arrived in the UK last week, Col Novotny remarked that “everyone has been so warm and welcoming” as he has toured community groups around Lakenheath to prepare for the role. He praised the “incredibly impressive” work of the base, adding: “The wing is running on all eight cylinders.”

And when asked whether the end of US combat operations in Afghanistan meant the 48th Fighter Wing has less of a role in the world today, Col Novotny replied: “This is where the striking element comes from. We are ready to respond to any crisis if the call comes.”

Protocol dictates that there must be a seamless transition between outgoing and incoming commanders, with Col Novotny spending the past week preparing basics such as his office layout so he could get started with minimal delay after taking over.

As he greeted servicemen after the ceremony at a reception, his predecessor Col Kyle Robinson was already getting in a car to take him to Heathrow for a flight back to the US.

In his leaving speech, Col Robinson said: “This has been truly a blessing and I have had an outstanding time. It has been an honour and a privilege.

“This has been one of the most amazing opportunities of my life.”

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