The new commander of the 66th Air Base Group at Hanscom Air Force Base grew up in western Kentucky. But her arrival here is a homecoming of sorts – she was first assigned to Hanscom almost 20 years ago.
Col. Katrina Stephens was formally inducted in change-of-command ceremonies Wednesday on the base, succeeding Col. Chad Ellsworth. The ceremony was attended by a handful of people, while hundreds of military personnel, friends, families, and dignitaries all logged on through Facebook Live.
The role of the airbase group is to manage services and operations that support active-duty and reserve personnel on the base and throughout the region, which includes New England and much of upstate New York. This includes not only facilities management, personnel, security, and community relations for the high-level research and development on base, but also retirement and even ceremonial support outside the perimeter.
The normal cycle for a group commander is about two years.
“It is truly great to be back in New England,” Col. Stephens said in her acceptance remarks, noting that she hopes to be seeing more of her stepdaughter and step-grandchildren in New Hampshire. Her husband Charlie is a civilian.
“It was somewhat surreal when I drove through the gate a few days ago,” Stephens reflected. “Never in my wildest imagination, when I departed almost 18 years ago as a young captain, did I think I would return to be the installation commander.” She acknowledged that much has changed, “but the one thing that remained is the professionalism and resourcefulness of the men and women” of the air group.
The new group commander said her top priority is to protect the health of the ten thousand military and civilian personnel who live and work at Hanscom, as the base moves into recovery from the Covid-19 restrictions. “Our approach will be deliberate and our path will be decisive.”
Keynote speaker, on a screen from Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, was Lt. Gen. Robert D. McMurry Jr., who leads Hanscom’s parent branch, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
McMurry praised Ellsworth’s performance during his tenure, including overseeing the installation’s pandemic response as well as several internal matters, involving housing and other facilities. He praised Ellsworth’s “professionalism and transparency.”
The general said Stephens is “immensely qualified” to succeed Ellsworth, noting her past assignments in Los Angeles, Turkey, the Pentagon, and the Air Force Personnel Center in Texas. Her most recent duty was at Robins AFB in Georgia. He also noted that the new group commander is called Kat Stephens by her family and friends and that her namesake was a popular singer who subsequently changed his name (Cat Stephens is also known as Yusuf Islam).
Among the dignitaries recognized as watching the live stream were Bedford’s five Select Board members, legislators, town manager and high school principal, Chamber of Commerce director, and VA Hospital director. In bis message of welcome, Gov. Charlie Baker called Hanscom AFB a “jewel” and a model for public-private partnership.:
Col. Ellsworth, who has attended many government and community events, was installed in early August 2018. His next assignment is in Illinois. The Ellsworths’ daughter Madison, a Bedford High School senior, will remain in the area attending UMass Boston.