New leader takes over critical Springfield base, missions

The Springfield Air National Guard Base has a new leader who now oversees one of only eight active-duty bases in the U.S. remotely flying drones and a major economic driver for Clark County.

The base held a change of command Saturday as its most recent commander — Col. Gregory Schnulo — will take on a prominent role overseeing Ohio Air National Guard operations statewide.

Col. Bryan Davis now takes over command. He’s a former F-16 Pilot who most recently oversaw the base’s mission remotely flying the MQ-1 Predator for surveillance and reconnaissance missions overseas. Hundreds of guard members stood at attention Saturday afternoon as Schnulo passed the unit’s colors over to Davis during a brief ceremony.

Military experts and local economic development officials said Schnulo has left the base well-positioned to maintain its current missions over the next several years, and possibly add missions in the future.

The Springfield base is critical to the area’s economy, generating about $59 million in payroll from its 1,200 total employees.

The base’s cutting-edge missions and capabilities now put it in a much better position if another base closure process begins, said Steven Bucci, a retired Army Special Forces colonel who serves as a defense analyst for the Heritage Foundation. The Predator mission in particular will likely see increasing demand, both overseas and at the state level in the case of natural disasters or other calamities, Bucci said.

“The dependence on unmanned vehicles is going to continue to go up,” Bucci said. “It’s still as high as its ever been and will continue to grow. While I know everybody loves keeping fighter planes, frankly for the larger national defense strategy, it’s probably a much better move for that unit to have the (Predator).”

Asked to do more

Schnulo has served as commander of the 178th Wing since 2011. He will now serve as assistant adjutant general for the Ohio Air National Guard.

Taking on the job as wing commander is a difficult task, but Schnulo was the perfect fit for the base during a time of transition, said Brig. Gen. Stephen Markovich, commander of the Ohio Air National Guard in Columbus. Now, Schnulo will be asked to take on a more prominent role in the organization, Markovich said during Saturday’s change of command.

“It’s an occupational hazard of leadership, when you do great things, you get asked to do more,” Markovich said of Schnulo.

Schnulo led the base through a difficult transition period after Springfield lost its mission as an F-16 pilot training site as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process in 2005. The wing first switched to training foreign pilots, then later picked up the Predator missions, and was one of the first bases to fly the unmanned aircraft overseas.

The 178th Wing also has a separate intelligence mission in which guard members work closely with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Changing missions so dramatically was initially considered a risk, Schnulo said.

“There was a concern if you took aircraft mechanics and sent them to intelligence school, they would have a problem transitioning from using their hands to using their brains,” Schnulo said. “But they have just done outstanding work. They did very well at the intelligence schools, they’re leaders and they’re seasoned people who came back here and did great work.”

The wing’s success dealing with challenging missions will also give the Springfield base a boost if other opportunities come along, Schnulo said. Both the 178th Wing’s Predator mission and its intelligence mission with NASIC could lead to other high-tech missions like cyber security over the long term.

The base is also the only Guard unit in Ohio with firefighters trained to conduct urban search and rescue missions, Schnulo said.

Throughout his tenure as base commander, Schnulo said he was most proud of leading the wing through the transition to the new missions.

“With the experience that this wing has in forward-looking missions, this wing is a great model in case other opportunities come to us in the future,” Schnulo said.

New kids on the block

The biggest challenge for Davis will be the transition from leading about 300 airmen, he said, to a total of about 1,200 full- and part-time employees who work in various roles throughout the base. While he is looking forward to the challenge, Davis said he never set out to take on such a prominent leadership role.

“I’ll be honest, I started this rodeo to fly airplanes,” Davis said of his military career. “Leadership came much later in my career. I felt that I owed it, and this wing in particular has been great for my family and myself professionally.”

On Saturday, Schnulo said it was clear Davis is the right choice to lead the wing because of his concern for the future of the base, its mission and its employees.

“He’s the perfect guy to be in charge of this wing right now,” Schnulo said.

While local guard members were among the first to receive training in their fields, Davis said they’ve now become leaders who now often train members of other units.

“We started this in essence five years ago in 2010,” Davis said. “Now, experience-wise, we keep saying this is a transition. But the reality is the active-duty airman as a general rule is only there four to six years. While we started out new to this, we have some of the most experienced airmen in these career fields. We rapidly went from the new kids on the block to this experienced group.”

It’s not clear what direction the wing’s missions will take over the next several years, Schnulo said. But it is possible the Predators could eventually operate in Ohio where they could be used in search and rescue missions or in the case of natural disasters to provide intelligence to rescuers on the ground.

It’s still likely a few years away, but Davis said the Air Force is no longer buying the Predator drones and is instead switching to the MQ-9 Reaper, which is similar but larger. Pilots in Springfield will likely be flying the drones for years but may eventually switch to the Reaper.

Schnulo has served the base well as wing commander, and will be a good advocate for the role the Springfield base can continue to play as he moves into his new position in Columbus, said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Chamber of Greater Springfield.

As assistant adjutant general for the Ohio Air National Guard, Schnulo will oversee the guard’s air operations throughout the state. He will report to Major Gen. Mark Bartman, a member of Gov. John Kasich’s cabinet who’s responsible for the command of the Ohio National Guard.

“He’s been very involved in the community, and we hope he’ll take his knowledge of the community and the base to the state level and continue to advocate for the missions that are going on here,” McDorman said. “It’s a good opportunity for our community to have someone like Col. Schnulo in Columbus advocating on behalf of our community.”

Moving forward

Although a BRAC processes hasn’t been scheduled for the immediate future, local officials need to constantly work to ensure Wright-Patterson and the Springfield guard base are in the best position to survive and gain new missions moving forward, said Maurice McDonald, executive vice president of aerospace and defense for the Dayton Development Coalition.

Local officials also need to make military leaders and lawmakers aware of the close ties between Wright-Patt and Springfield, he said.

A BRAC will begin eventually because the Department of Defense will need to consolidate its operations, McDonald said.

“We need to be prepared now and that’s what we’re working toward, to position Wight-Patt and the Springfield National Guard base not only to retain the missions they have today, but to grow additional missions in the future,” McDonald said.

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