Lt. Col. David M. Steele and his wife Tracy pay their respects to the flag during the playing of the national anthem during a change of command ceremony where he assumed command of Marine Aircraft Group 49, Det. A, Monday. (U. S. Air Force photo/Sue Sapp)
7/12/2012 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Lt. Col. Michael "HoJo" Johnson and his family have made Robins home for the past two summers. But, on July 9, the Naval Academy graduate relinquished command of Marine Aircraft Group 49 Detachment A to its new commanding officer, Lt. Col. David Steele.
Johnson reflected on the unit's time in Middle Georgia since relocating from Dobbins Air Reserve Base in June 2010.
"It has been good working with the Marines down here, both active duty and Reserve," said Johnson, a Marine Corps veteran of more than 18 years. "And, it's also been a good fit and experience being stationed at an Air Force base like Robins."
MAG-49 Det A provides oversight of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 - the only attack helicopter squadron in the Marine Corps Reserve. Combined, the units include about 300 active duty and Reserve members.
Johnson said his experience has been a bit different here since he came directly from an active duty squadron. The pace, for one thing, has been much slower, which has allowed Marines more time with their families.
Neither unit deploys very often, although they do undergo training all year as needed, from nearby Fort Benning, Ga., to as far away as California.
Also, HMLA-773 doesn't have as many aircraft on station as an active duty location would; it's one of three locations in the U.S. The other two are in Louisiana and New Jersey.
At Robins, there are currently five AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and four UH-1N Huey utility helicopters. Overall, the entire unit includes 18 Cobras and nine Hueys. Maintainers here work on those aircraft and fly throughout the week.
The unit returned from about a month's worth of training last April after flying alongside infantry units getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. They also recently supported Exercise Javelin Thrust 2012 - a brigade-level exercise in Yuma, Ariz.
Annual large-scale exercises help keep Marines combat-ready and able to respond to contingencies when needed.
As far as what the future holds, Johnson, a Cobra pilot, noted that focus will remain on ongoing local and national training. He and his wife, Monique, and their three children, will relocate to Montgomery, Ala., where he will study at the Air Force Air War College for 10 months.
Monday's change of command ceremony also included Johnson receiving a Meritorious Service Medal. MAG-49's new leader, Lt. Col. Steele, also a Cobra pilot, previously served one year as executive officer at The Basic School, Headquarters Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va.
"We have a unique organization here on this Air Force installation," said Steele, who has served as an instructor pilot and quality assurance officer, deploying multiple times to Afghanistan. "Our mission will be to continue providing the ability to buffer active duty forces and provide operational readiness."
Steele was commissioned in 1995 through the Platoon Leaders Class after receiving a bachelor's degree from George Mason University. Following designation as a Naval aviator in 1998, he reported to various light attack helicopter squadrons. In 2004, he began a four-year tour with HMX-1, where he was ground training officer, scheduling officer and White House liaison officer. During this tour he was designated a Command pilot.