FORT HOOD, Texas - The 302nd Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force welcomed a new commander to the unit during a ceremony here, July 22, at the squadron’s hangar on Robert Gray Army Airfield.
The Dutch welcomed Lt. Col. Wilko de Waard, as he accepted command from outgoing commander Lt. Col. Martin ‘t Jong. The new commander returns to the Great Place from his previous assignment as the chief of Apache Operations at the Royal Netherlands Air Force Headquarters.
De Waard’s first assignment here was in 2003, when he completed training with the 301st Squadron under the leadership of the 21st Cavalry Aviation Brigade (Air Combat). The training program has since evolved into the 302nd Sqdn. as a permanent unit of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The squadron works closely with the 166th Aviation Brigade, First Army Division West.
The 302nd originally came to Fort Hood 26 years ago for training assistance. The unit became known as the Netherlands Apache Training Program under the 21st Cavalry Combat Aviation Training Brigade. Over the last few decades, the unit’s name may have changed, but not their mission. They trained experienced AH-64 Apache and CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots, crew chiefs, maintainers, and support personnel. Together, they work to maintain a high level of readiness.
“My first encounter was with a Dutch 302nd Squadron, Apache Squadron,” De Waard said. “My Apache experience since then, and my experience of commanding a Chinook-only deployment in 2017 (in Afghanistan), would all merge here at this moment, at this place.”
Over the past four years, the outgoing commander has been credited with a long list of achievements. He oversaw countless training hours for both Apache and Chinook pilots and loadmasters, ensuring the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Army maintained a high standard for Dutch combat-ready troops in the air assault and helicopter domain.
“As commander, you typically get credited with all of the unit’s achievement, and I’ve said many, many times before, and I’ll say it again, all that credit is for you, the people to my right, the people in front of me,” a grateful ‘t Jong said to those gathered in the hanger.
While stationed at Fort Hood, ‘t Jong and his family had a chance to travel across the state of Texas and America, learning more about the country. He said that the friendships and memories his family have made would last them a lifetime. He said he looks forward to returning home to show his friends and family his newfound cooking repertoire.
“Your way of life and friendship showed us the real Texas. Not only have we really got to live the Texas life ourselves, we also got to understand so much more … a treasure our family will carry with us for the rest of our lives,” ‘t Jong said. “To our friends and family watching from the Netherlands, get ready for some real barbecue. I’ve acquired some genuine mad Texas skills.”
De Waard thanked those who attended both locally and via Zoom and said he looks forward to the adventure ahead.
“We’re all in on this adventure together,” the new commander said. “Royal Six signing on!”