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Promise to deliver: Gen. McDew takes command of Transcom

Gen. Darren McDew became commander of U.S. Transportation Command, based at Scott Air Force Base, during a ceremony Wednesday.
Gen. Darren McDew became commander of U.S. Transportation Command, based at Scott Air Force Base, during a ceremony Wednesday. News-Democrat

Gen. Darren McDew officially became the 12th commander of the U.S. Transportation Command during a ceremony that drew dozens of generals, admirals and high-ranking civilian members of the U.S. defense establishment, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

McDew accepted command of Transcom from his predecessor, Gen. Paul Selva, who recently stepped into his new job as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“In its 28-year history, Transcom has always kept its promise to deliver, and that will not change,” McDew told the crowd. We make executing national priorities in peace and war a reality. I am so in awe of how you get that done.”

Carter said McDew is “one of our finest military leaders,” who will lead Transcom with confidence and certainty.

Carter used the occasion as an opportunity to urge the U.S. Congress to approve long-term budgets for the Pentagon and to reject the current practice of approving defense spending for one year at a time. Carter called on federal lawmakers to pass a budget “that charts a responsible course that invests in you.”

Carter noted that budget conversations in Washington might appear distant to people in Southern Illinois, but “this is a discussion that matters deeply to Transcom, to Belleville, Illinois, and to our entire country.”

Carter emphasized the importance of long-term budget planning.

“If we can’t come together and pass a sensible budget, if we’re forced to operate under a continuing resolution or to endure another bout of sequestration, there will be real consequences,” he said. “And Transcom will feel them firsthand. Because when we’re forced to make irresponsible cuts, it’s readiness that suffers first. When we’re forced to budget one year at a time, it’s investment in the future and modernziation that get sacrificed.”

McDew, 54, is the past commander of the 18th Air Force and Air Mobility Command, both headquartered at Scott.

McDew holds a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the Virginia Military Institute. A pilot with more than 3,300 hours in the cockpit, McDew has flown a variety of aircraft, including the T-37B, the KC-135A, the C-17A and the C-21.

McDew emphasized the importance of family to his vision of life. He called his wife Evelyn his “better 98 percent” and spoke of how proud he is that his daughter Keesha, son Keith and daughter-in-law Becca “all still call and come home to visit. And that’s a blessing that will strengthen me as we go forward. And the most wonderful, precious human in the world, Henry (his grandson), is here. How could I not be confident? Especially since dozens of our military family members are here with us and lift us up every single day.”

McDew quoted from a prayer his 10-year-old neice uttered at a family dinner the night before.

“Dear Lord, please guide Uncle Darren on his new path as Transcom commander,” McDew said as he read from a printed copy of the prayer. “Help him be all he can be. And bless everyone he works with. And please guide Aunt Evelyn as she journeys on this path alongside Uncle Darren.”

Transcom is one of nine unified commands of the United States Department of Defense. Transcom’s mission is to provide air, land and sea transportation for the Department of Defense, both in times of peace and times of war. Set up in 1987, Transcom serves as the overall coordinator of America’s global defense transportation system. It oversees military and humanitarian missions of all sizes and duration all over the world.

Transcom during an average week conducts more than 1,900 air missions, with 25 ships underway and 10,000 ground shipments operating in 75 percent of the world's countries, according to information on its website.

McDew is Transcom’s first black commander, one of three general officers of color to reach the four-star rank and lead a major combat command.

During a question-and-answer session with the news media after the ceremony, McDew said the fact he is black “is relevant in one regard. This is a wonderful meritocracy. I’m not here because I’m African-American. If it were the case, I would have been here years ago, and not now.”

McDew took a moment to consider what he was about to say next.

“Why it’s relevant, I still believe there are people out there who need to see someone who looks like them,” he said. “And sometimes you don’t know what you can dream until you see it.”

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