New Commander for the ND Happy Hooligans - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

New Commander for the ND Happy Hooligans

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The North Dakota Air National Guard Happy Hooligans welcomed a new commander Thursday. Col. Kent Olson will lead the 119th Wing as Col. Rick Gibney steps down and prepares to deploy.

"The 119th Wing has a long-standing record of excellence," said Gov. Jack Dalrymple. "Col. Olson is a proven leader and under his command, the 119th will continue its remarkable tradition of outstanding operational readiness and professionalism. I congratulate Col. Olson on his appointment to wing commander, and we are indebted to Col. Rick Gibney for his dedication to the nation and North Dakota."

Gibney's military career began in the active-duty Army and Army National Guard. He was commissioned an officer in 1982 and advanced to be named 119th Wing commander three years ago. His accomplishments during the past three years were recognized with the presentation of a Meritorious Service Medal during today's ceremony.

Olson, vice wing commander since 2008, enlisted in the Air National Guard in 1981.

"During this time of uncertainty regarding future flying missions for our Air National Guard, it's imperative that we have a strong and effective leader at the helm," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, who spoke at this morning's Change of Command ceremony. "I'm confident in Col. Olson's abilities to continue to successfully lead this organization as it maintains its well-known standards of excellence for years to come. I'm also certain that Col. Gibney will take those standards with him as he leads others in an active operational environment during his upcoming deployment."

Both Air Guard leaders flew numerous missions around the nation and over Washington, D.C., following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Both also deployed as part of Operation Coronet Nighthawk, an anti-narcotic smuggling air operation, between 1991-2001 in Central America.

Established in January 1947, the Happy Hooligans have a lengthy flying history in the state, beginning with P-51 Mustangs, moving into an era of fighter aircraft and, most recently, piloting C-21 Lear jets and MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,900 Soldiers and about 2,400 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. About 70 percent of all members serving today have joined since that time. Currently, more than 150 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while more than 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that's more than four times the national average.

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