New York Air National Guard Col. Shawn Fitzgerald will become the next commander of the 106th Rescue Wing based in Westhampton Beach, the Air Force announced last week.
Col. Fitzgerald, who lives in Cutchogue with his wife, Nicci, and two sons, Colin and Trevor, will replace Col. Michael Bank. Col. Bank has led the wing since 2006 and the change in guard will take place June 5.
“I’m honored to be selected as the next Wing Commander of the 106th Rescue Wing,” Col. Fitzgerald said in a press release. “I’ve had the good fortune and pleasure to be a part of this Wing for almost 14 years and I look forward to continuing to work with this great team of selfless Airmen.”
Col. Fitzgerald is a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and also served as an Army officer.
The 106th Rescue Wing, based at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, is one of three Air National Guard search and rescue wings that specializes in recovering down pilots and conducting rescue missions on land or at sea.
In 2006, Col. Fitzgerald transferred to the 106th Rescue Wing where he first served as director of operations for the 103rd Rescue Squadron, where the pararescue Airmen are assigned. He was in that role until 2011 when he became commander of the 106th Operations Support Squadron. From 2012-2015, he commanded the 103rd Rescue Squadron. And from 2015 to 2018 he commanded the 106th Mission Support Group. He currently serves as the 106th Rescue Wing’s vice commander.
“I have the utmost confidence in Col. Shawn Fitzgerald’s abilities,” said Col. Bank, who will move to a new role at New York Air National Guard headquarters in Latham, N.Y. “He knows and understands our mission inside and out and our people. He will do a great job leading the 106th Rescue Wing into the future.”
The 106th Rescue Wing has a wide array of responsibilities, from supporting Air Force personnel recovery operations, performing civil search and rescue missions such as during hurricanes, and assisting state emergency response and disaster relief efforts. More than 150 members of the wing are currently deployed in support of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
Col. Fitzgerald graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1996 and joined the Army first instead of the Air Force. He said that was because his father and grandfather had served in the Army. He served in the Army from 1997 until 2006.
“I was able to see firsthand the work of Air Force Rescue in Afghanistan,” Col. Fitzgerald said, explaining why he decided to join the Air Force. “Watching their professionalism and ability to accomplish the mission made me want to be a part of that team.”
He has earned two Bronze Stars among a long list of other honors.
During his time in the Army when he served as the brigade assistant operations officer, he was part of Operation Northern Delay, a combat parachute jump staged by 1,000 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade to seize the Basha Airfield in Erbil during the coalition invasion of Iraq in March 2003. He played a part in planning the mission, which was the largest airborne combat jump into one drop zone since World War II.