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Maxwell welcomes first active-duty flying training unit since 1945

  • Published
  • By Bradley J. Clark
  • 908th Airlift Wing

The 908th Airlift Wing has an active-duty associate mission partner on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama for the first time.

Detachment 3 of the 58th Operations Group had an official activation ceremony Jan. 31, 2024, on Maxwell.

Det. 3 will provide mission support to the 908th’s flying training mission and local support to Air Education and Training Command’s mission of managing MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter training courseware and syllabi. The detachment will also assist in the responsibility of providing trained Grey Wolf pilots and special mission aviators to four major commands, ensuring aircrew are members are trained and qualified for worldwide employment in nuclear security, VIP transportation operations, and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape training support.

Commander of the 58th OG, Col. Derek Price, was the presiding official for the activation ceremony and for the assumption of command where the Air Force’s newest detachment welcomed Lt. Col. Derek Cumbie as its commander.

“Today, after 60 years of remarkable service, we are taking a significant stride towards the eventual retirement of the Huey fleet, and welcoming its replacement,” said Price. “Since the inception of the MH-139A Grey Wolf in 2018, it has been a long road of research, development, testing, coordinating with international agencies, battling delays, overcoming logistical challenges, and finding a new home for the [formal training unit]. An FTU that will shape professional rotary wing aviators for many decades to come.”

Price then touched on the significance of Det 3 being at Maxwell AFB.

“I can think of no other base across our Air Force that is more suited to this mission than Maxwell,” said Price. “This is arguably one of the most profound institutions in our history, and it is the heartbeat of the Air Force. Where we stand, was once used by Wilber and Orville Wright to open up their very first civilian flying school. And in the 1930s, the Army Air Corps Tactical School moved here, followed by numerous initial and advanced flight training units. Add in the doctrinal foundation of Air University and I’m confident that no other base in the Air Force can match the historical significance and perfect operating environment for the 908th and Detachment 3 to thrive and provide Grey Wolf crews well into the future.”

After Price spoke about the detachment, he then turned his focus to Cumbie.

“No base and no aircraft can operate completely on its own,” explained Price. “It takes professional leadership to run and especially to standup a new schoolhouse. And more importantly, it takes a heavy reliance on the ability to establish and build relationships, which is why you’re sitting on this stage today, Derek. You’ve spent several years doing exactly that, building relationships and setting the stage for the success of this program. And today, your duty title changes, to reflect commander, a change that comes with an additional responsibility, leading Airmen. Your task is now to guide the team in front of you, to lead them while they continue the work you’ve been doing. They will face challenges and make mistakes along the way, but as the commander, your role shifts to removing the roadblocks they encounter. Use the relationships and trust you’ve built with Team Maxwell, to enable your Airmen and help them become successful. Lead them and lead them well.”

Cumbie is a senior pilot with more than 2,000 flying hours and more than 17 years of service in the U.S. Air Force. He has various flying and staff assignments in Texas, Maryland, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Alabama, where he has provided distinguished visitor support for the national capitol region, UH-1N flying training instruction, nuclear security support, and academic instruction at AETC’s Air University.

After Cumbie thanked his family, friends, Team Maxwell members, and other helicopter crew members from throughout the Air Force that were in attendance, he then turned his focus to Price.

“Col. Price, sir, thank you for presiding today and for your advocacy,” said Cumbie. “Thank you for entrusting me with this role, and for your guidance and leadership over the past couple of years. Taking command is a privilege and I will make every effort to live up to the standards that the position demands. I will daily do my best to earn the right to lead those entrusted to this unit. I’m humbled and honored. Thank you.”

Cumbie then turned his attention the detachment’s mission.

“Det 3’s activation is another small step in the journey toward graduating MH-139A students at Maxwell,” explained Cumbie. “This activation is significant for several reasons. First off, Det 3’s activation marks the first time in history that the 908th Airlift Wing will have an associated partner. Since the 1960s the 908th Airlift Wing has faithfully executed a tactical airlift mission here at Maxwell. They’ve done it solely with their Reserve personnel. Today, they have an associative partner in Det 3. Active-duty members, along with Air Force Reserve members will work, train and fly side-by-side. We hope to make our Total Force Integration an example of success for others to follow. To all my active-duty friends here today, I want to assure you, that the 908th has risen to this massive challenge. The MH-139 FTU is in good hands here.”

Cumbie then closed his comments by turning to the Airmen of Det 3 that he now commands.

“Members of Det 3, ownership of our mission starts now, and I have all the confidence in the world that we are ready for the challenge,” said Cumbie.

Det 3, and the 58th OG both belong to the 58th Special Operations Wing, based at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 58th SOW’s parent organization is the 19th Air Force located at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, which belongs to Air Education and Training Command.

Prior to taking command of Det 3, Cumbie served as the AETC liaison and director of operations for the 58th OG OL-A MH-139A, Flying Training Unit Program Integration Office, 908th Airlift Wing. He assisted major command functional leads with requirements and on-site execution of flying training unit beddown activities and assisted the relationship between AETC and the Air Force Reserve Command to help develop the U.S. Air Force’s only MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter flying training wing.