ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — The Marines are finally at home in Middle Georgia.
After weeks of Marines and their helicopters trickling into the base, the Marine Aircraft Group 49, Detachment A, officially relocated to Robins Thursday during a morning welcoming ceremony. About 120 active duty Marines are now based at Robins, alongside the nearly 5,700 active duty airmen at the installation.
“You are living with a community with open arms,” Maj. Gen. Polly Peyer, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, told the new Robins tenants. She noted that the new tenants bring a “blending of culture” to Robins.
“Now to add the Marines to our air power, there’s nothing like it,” Peyer said.
Peyer was joined at the ceremony by Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen and Maj. Gen. John M. Croley, the commanding general of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. Croley visited Robins in April to introduce the unit to its new home.
Speaking in a hangar built for the unit, Croley praised the Marines’ new home.
“This is one of the finest facilities Marines have ever had the pleasure of being in,” Croley said.
The unit also used the occasion to change commanders.
Lt. Col. Thomas J. Nemeth III, the commander of the unit since June 2008, handed the unit’s guidon and his BlackBerry — “the instrument of real power,” in Nemeth’s words — to Lt. Col. Michael Johnson, a 38-year-old Naval Academy graduate.
“We’re looking forward to living in the local area for the next two years,” Johnson said, adding that he also looks forward to “flying that skinny gray death machine,” pointing to a AH-1W Cobra helicopter that was parked in the hangar for the ceremony.
The Marines will be flying a Cobra and a UH-1N Huey helicopter over today’s Independence Day celebration in Warner Robins.
Johnson’s military résumé includes a tour in Afghanistan just three months after Sept. 11, 2001, and several tours in Iraq. He also has served an assignment in Alabama in 2006 and 2007.
“Mike’s no stranger to the South,” Croley said of the new commander.
Johnson and his wife, Monique Williamson, have three children. Johnson was visibly emotional in thanking his wife during his remarks, acknowledging the “trials and tribulations” of the deployments that his family has endured.
Johnson has likely not seen his last deployment.
“These are global soldiers of the sea,” Croley said. “They’re returning to the sea.”
The Marines who relocated to Robins on Thursday are not the only ones who will operate at the base. About 200 additional reserve Marines will train at the base one weekend a month.