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Against a backdrop of a Douglas DC-3, a Bombardier Challenger 604, a McDonnell Douglas CF-188B and a Boeing CH-113 Labrador, LGen Michael Hood passed command of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to LGen Al Meinzinger on May 4, 2018.
The ceremony was conducted at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa and included an honour guard parade from 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., which Hood led from 2007 to 2009, and a Colour Party from 429 Tactical Airlift Squadron, the last squadron he commanded.
It also featured the central band of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the pipes and drums of 8 Wing. A planned flyover of two CH-146 Griffon helicopters, two CF-188 Hornets and one CC-130J Hercules was cancelled due to poor weather.
The transfer of command from Hood, an air combat systems officer, to Meinzinger, a helicopter pilot, marked the first time the new RCAF colours were paraded since they were presented by the Governor General in September. The former colours were passed to the custody of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a ceremony in February.
The setting of historic Air Force and Canadian airframes was a fitting reminder of the importance of the RCAF legacy, a history both commanders referenced in remarks to an audience of several hundred personnel, families and dignitaries, including seven former commanders, three former Chiefs of the Defence Staff (CDS), and three former deputy commanders of NORAD.
The change of command is more than passing a torch, “it’s poignant,” said CDS Gen Jonathan Vance. “[It] marks the very cadence of life in the armed forces.”
Hood assumed command of the RCAF in July 2015, culminating a 33-year career that included many years in a CC-130 Hercules as well as staff tours with the Governor General, the United States Air Force, and in senior positions with the CAF and RCAF.
He praised the “exceptional people” of the Air Force and their skill on operations. “You are inheriting a great team you helped build,” he told Meinzinger.
Hood’s one lament, he said, was the pace and lack of political agreement on vital procurement programs, in particular the replacement of the CF-188 Hornets.
“While I’m happy [the new] defence policy has a lot of great opportunity for the Air Force, and we have a vision moving forward for an open and transparent competition for the replacement of the fighter, I can tell you it is not happening fast enough,” he said.
“And I am going to continue to encourage, in my role as a civilian, the government to try and accelerate the acquisition of that replacement fighter.”
Vance thanked Hood for his “sound and clear” advice on a number of complex files, including acquisition projects such as fighter jets and fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, “ferocious advice” that was delivered in private and “honest execution delivered in public.”
He also commended Hood for his efforts to instill a new generation of innovators within the RCAF by seeking out ideas from across the Air Force and seconding non-commissioned and junior officers to an entrepreneurial environment in a technology hub in Waterloo, Ont. “It speaks to your care for the future … of the RCAF,” said Vance.
Meinzinger, who served as deputy commander of the RCAF for two years under Hood, also applauded the innovation agenda and said he would, “continue to focus on innovation as we look to the future.”
A CH-135 Twin Huey and CH-146 Griffon pilot with four flying tours, Meinzinger has served in a variety of senior staff roles in the CAF, RCAF and NORAD, most recently as director of staff in the Strategic Joint Staff under Gen Vance.
He commanded the Joint Task Force Afghanistan air wing in Kandahar in 2011, overseeing air wing support to combat operations, and has led both the training and education systems as commanding officer of 403 Helicopter Operational Training Squadron in 2006 and later, in 2013, as commandant of the Royal Military College of Canada.
His experience taught him the importance of “flying in formation” and working “as one team,” said Meinzinger. Born in Trenton and raised on the base, he said he was “indentured for life” and learned at an early age “what it means to be part of a military family.”
His father, a chief warrant officer, served 36 years in the CAF.
Meinzinger said he intends to maintain the RCAF reputation for excellence on operations.
“Our ability to deliver air power effects in an integrated manner with precision, agility and professionalism is our true calling card.”
But he also emphasized people as a personal priority at a time when the Air Force is wrestling with recruitment and, perhaps more challenging, retention.
“In my view, the RCAF can only be successful … if we have well-led, healthy, robust and inclusive squadrons and tactical units. I firmly believe that if we can get it right within our 39 flying units and 85 tactical units, our future will be all that brighter,” he said, pledging that decisions would be made with the understanding that squadrons “remain the life blood of the RCAF.”