Twenty six years ago, a Savannah teenager named Ronald Speir enlisted in the 117th Air Control Squadron of the Georgia Air National Guard.
Saturday at Hunter Army Airfield, Lt. Col. Ron Speir became commander of the 117th, a unit he called “the best damn air control squadron in the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard.”
“It’s a very special honor for me,” said Speir, who now resides in Richmond Hill. “Being a local Savannah boy and growing up here and enlisting in the squadron in 1987 and then spending almost 26 years here, and now being asked to lead squadron I grew up in, it’s just a wonderful honor.”
Speir is a full-time member of the Air National Guard. He assumes command of the 117th mere months before the 186-member unit makes its third major deployment since the 9/11 terrorist attacks — the 117th is headed to the Persian Gulf in November for a six-month stay in support of air defense efforts in the Gulf, he said.
Speir, who assumed command from Lt. Col. Victor Long, also a Savannah native, thanked his wife, Brenda, and daughters, Hayley and Ella, for their support and understanding. He also said there were some anxious moments as the days ticked down to his taking command.
“It’s kind of like getting married. It’s a relief to finally get it over with,” he said. “I’m glad to get the guidon in my hands and accept the challenge.”
Speir’s resume is impressive. He graduated with honors from ASC — now Armstrong Atlantic State University — in 1991 with a B.A. in English and a minor in communications, and earned his commission in 1992. He began a full-time career in the Air National Guard in 1994 in Oregon, then returned to the 117th in 1998 where he’s since served as everything from an operations training officer to the detachment commander responsible for managing the unit’s 37-member full-time staff.
Speir also has deployed for NATO exercises in Denmark and Norway, and to Colombia, Honduras, Panama, the Turks and Caicos Islands as part of the war on drugs. Along with the 117th, he deployed to Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch in 2001to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.
Since 9/11, Speir has served in a variety of roles, including a 5½- month stint in Florida designing command radar for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Speir has also deployed with the 117th to Cape Canaveral to provide security for space shuttle launches. In addition, the unit deployed to Iraq in 2006 and to the Persian Gulf in 2010 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Speir said becoming commander is more than just an honor and challenge. The job carries with it a tremendous amount of responsibility, he said, not least because the role of the Air National Guard has changed.
“This is not the same Air National Guard I enlisted in 26 years ago,” Speir said. “We expect a lot more of our young airmen today and of our young officers. It takes long hours. It takes coming in Friday nights and doing things from home for free. I take on lot of responsibility to take care of our people. That’s the most important thing to me because they take care of me to get the job done.”