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Wing commander reflects on career, with family focus

Col. Gary Brewer, 161st Air Refueling Wing commander, leads a formation during the first-ever Arizona National Guard Muster, Dec. 7, 2014, at Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix.  Brewer, the 13th officer to lead Arizona's KC-135 Stratotanker unit, will retire from the Air Force Dec. 5 after 26 years of service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Courtney Enos)

Col. Gary Brewer, 161st Air Refueling Wing commander, leads a formation during the first-ever Arizona National Guard Muster, Dec. 7, 2014, at Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix. Brewer, the 13th officer to lead Arizona's KC-135 Stratotanker unit, will retire from the Air Force Dec. 5 after 26 years of service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Courtney Enos)

PHOENIX -- He grew up in a military family and eventually served his country in uniform for 26 years. Col. Gary D. Brewer, Jr., commander of the 161st Air Refueling Wing, recently reflected and shared his thoughts on that, a family and on a career - all of which he gained through military service.

After nine years in the regular Air Force and 17 in the Arizona Air National Guard, Brewer will retire Dec. 5.

"I've had the opportunity to influence so many people; it's such an honor to not just lead but to mentor the amazing group of Airmen in this wing," said Brewer. "You look across the board and we have so much talent, and the desire to excel. People are doing amazing things. I thank God that I had this chance to mentor, lead and work with the best family."

Brewer's father served three tours in Vietnam and earned many honors to include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts. "It wasn't the combat stuff that my father talked about, it was the people and the leadership," he said. 

He applied to the Air Force Academy when the opportunity arose his senior year and was accepted.  Transitioning from a small school in Indiana with zero college prep classes, this started his career in the Air Force.

He spent the earlier part of his career as an instructor pilot teaching others to fly the KC-135 Stratotanker. "It was rewarding to teach and see the students learn. I could see the light come on when I was instructing them," said Brewer. "As rewarding as that was, it was not nearly as rewarding as the experience I had leading and mentoring my fellow wing members here."

Brewer and his family made the transition to the Air National Guard after they realized reassignments would uproot them every few years. "I wanted a place that I could settle down," he said.

He said that he and his family then flourished with the wing.

"Look at what family is all about. It's the time spent together, the shared sacrifices and putting each other's needs before your own needs," said Brewer.  "That's what the Guard family is all about."

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with all the Airmen here.  I have never worked with a finer group of people or a better team than what we have at the 161st.  I am so proud to have been a part of this wing."