ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- A Marine pilot known as Tank who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan officially took the helm of the bases Marine Corps helicopter unit in a ceremony Monday.
Lt. Col. Philip E. Eilertson said his career had been building up to lead the unit, known as Marine Aircraft Group 49, Detachment Alpha, with mentoring by many colonels and a few generals. Among the people he worked with was Lt. Col. David M. Steele, who is leaving the unit to attend whats known as Top Level School at the Air War College in Alabama.
Eilertson reinforced the value of constant learning in a speech after he formally accepted the command.
I look forward to learning from the Marines here, mentoring, teaching, he said.
Eilertsons command includes 160 active-duty Marines and 150 reservists. The command is growing to add more advanced Cobra attack helicopters and modern Huey helicopters with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773.
The ceremony took place in a Marine hangar near the back of Robins Air Force Base. A Cobra attack helicopter and the units first new Huey helicopter were arranged outside, behind three lines of Marines with M-16 rifles. State flags lined the hangar, where an ammunition box for a 20mm cannon held open one door. Steele said the community had embraced him and became his family. But he said he knows Eilertson will soon discover all the vulnerabilities Steele left in the unit and fix them.
Youre going to take it to the next level, he said.
Marine Aircraft Group 49 includes units in Louisiana and New Jersey. The helicopter squadron moved into the 40,000-square-foot hangar in 2010.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.