Air Guard’s Director of Staff retires after nearly 40 years of service

Written by  //  April 19, 2012  //  Feature Stories

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Col. Alan Rutherford is honored during command retreat ceremony at the Florida National Guard headquarters, April 13, 2012. Rutherford, who most recently served as the Florida Air National Guard Director of Staff, retired on April 19 after nearly 40 years of military service. His career, which included piloting six different types of military aircraft, stretched more than half of the total history of the U.S. Air Force. Photo by Debra Cox.

SAINT AUGUSTINE, Fla. (April 19, 2012) – After nearly 40 years of military service, one of the Florida National Guard’s most experienced officers and pilots is hanging up his flight suit.

On April 19, Col. Alan Rutherford officially retired from the Florida Air National Guard.

Rutherford, who most recently served as the Florida Air National Guard Director of Staff, closed out a military career that began in 1974 as an enlisted Airman. His career – which included piloting six different types of military aircraft – stretched more than half of the total history of the U.S. Air Force.

During a recent retirement ceremony Rutherford downplayed the length of his own considerable career to highlight how relatively “new” the U.S. Air Force is as compared to its sister services.

“It is a remarkable thing how young our Air service is,” he said. “We have been witnesses to history and helped make it. It is an interesting and amazing history that has unfolded before our eyes.”

Rutherford, who described himself as a proud “AF Brat”, was the son of an Air Force fighter pilot who was shot down and rescued during a mission over North Vietnam in 1966.

Col. Alan Rutherford (center) receives a framed watercolor of the historic St.Francis Barracks from Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr. (left) and Commander of the Florida Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Jospeh Balskus during a retirement ceremony at the Florida National Guard headquarters, April 15, 2012. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

As a young man Rutherford enlisted in the North Dakota Air National Guard in 1974 as a command post controller. In 1977 he began pilot training and served as an F-4 Phantom pilot until 1982 when he joined the Florida Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Squadron.

During his career he logged more than 4,000 flight hours in everything from the F-106 Delta Dart and F-15 Eagle, to the larger C-130 Hercules and Boeing 727.

In the mid-1990s, while serving as the 125th Operations Group Commander, Rutherford planned and led coalition air combat operations during “Operations Northern/Southern Watch” over Iraq. Immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks he led the 125th Operations Group’s rapid activation and air defense of the homeland with Combat Air Patrols over major U.S. cities, and even the Space Shuttle. During that time he also orchestrated the unit’s first Operational Readiness Inspection in the F-15, receiving Air Combat Command’s rating of “Outstanding.”

In 2002 he joined the Florida Air National Guard Headquarters as the Director of Operations, and commanded the Florida Air National Guard assets a few years later during the historic and destructive 2004 hurricane season. In 2006 Rutherford was selected as the Florida Air National Guard’s Director of Staff.

Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr. said that among Rutherford’s lasting contributions to the history of the Florida Air National Guard will be his dedication to preserving the fighter pilot heritage.

“There are those that will pass through our doors, and their portion of that fabric of our heritage will be in ‘thread’; this man’s will be in ‘cable,’” Titshaw said of Rutherford. “It is a remarkable contribution and legacy that we will enjoy for years to come.”

Reflecting on military service, Rutherford noted that he has always felt Airmen were “different” and more unique than their brethren in the other services. He said the environment of Air Force pilots – the sky – is vast and ever-changing, and those dynamic qualities became ingrained in the Air Force.

“The early pioneers of airpower felt that, and it changed them,” he explained. “It changed the way they viewed the world, certainly the way they conducted war, and the way they set up this new Air Force power. I think since 1947 it’s in the DNA of every Airman, and at all ranks and all (specialties). That’s what makes an Airman. It goes back to the sky.”

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