New York Air National Guard Colonel Shawn Fitzgerald, a Cutchogue resident, has been named the next commander of New York’s 106th Rescue Wing based at Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton.
“I’m honored to be selected as the next wing commander of the 106th Rescue Wing,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve had the good fortune and pleasure to be a part of this wing for almost 14 years, and I look forward to continuing to work with this great team of selfless airmen.”
A career Combat Rescue Officer, the father of two has completed multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be the first wing commander who is not a rated pilot, and is the second Combat Rescue Officer to command an Air Force rescue wing. He will replace Colonel Michael Bank, who led the wing since 2016 and is moving into a role at New York Air National Guard headquarters in Latham. The change of command will take place June 5.
“An Air Force rescue wing is a unique agency — combining fixed wing aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, and Guardian Angel (search and rescue) professionals along with the associated maintenance, support, and medical military service members,” said Major General Timothy LaBarge, commander of the New York Air National Guard. “A rescue wing is the premiere Air Force agency dedicated to providing worldwide personnel recovery, combat search and rescue capability, expeditionary combat support, and civil search and rescue support to federal and state authorities.”
Fitzgerald graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1996, but chose to join the Army instead of the Air Force after graduation because his father and grandfather had served there. Fitzgerald was an infantry platoon leader, battalion reconnaissance platoon leader, company executive officer, and battalion operations officer in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY from 1997 until 2000.
He served as an instructor at the Army’s Ranger School from 2000 to 2002, when he joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade, stationed in Vicenza, Italy. For the next two years he served as the brigade assistant operations office and was part of Operation Northern Delay, a combat parachute jump staged by 1000 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade to seize the Bashar Airfield in Erbil during the coalition invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
“As an operations officer, Fitzgerald played a part in planning the mission,” a statement read, “which was the largest airborne combat jump into one drop zone since World War II.”
While a company commander in Afghanistan in 2005, he said he saw firsthand the Air Force rescue work and decided to join. He left the active Army and joined the New York Air National Guard in 2006.
Fitzgerald served as the director of operations for the 103rd Rescue Squadron from 2006 to 2011, as commander of the 106th Operations Group of the 106th Rescue Wing from 2011 to 2012, and then commanded the 103rd Rescue Squadron from 2012 until 2015. He currently serves as the 106th Rescue Wing’s vice commander.
He has graduated from Air Command and Staff College, the Naval Postgraduate School, Air War College, and the Advanced Joint Professional Military Education course at National Defense University. He has also completed a homeland security course at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and is certified to serve as a dual status commander, leading National Guard, active duty, and Federal Reserve military forces during a domestic response operation.
During his military career, he has been awarded two Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Afghanistan and Iraq campaign medals, the NATO Medal, Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border, the Army Combat Infantryman Badge, the Ranger Tab, Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, and Master Jump Wings.