Grissom bids farewell to Col. Thom Pemberton

  • Published
  • By Capt. Elias Zani
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs

The Grissom community bid farewell to Col. Thomas Pemberton, 434th Air Refueling Wing commander, after serving nearly four decades. Pemberton retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in during a ceremony here May 6, 2023.

The ceremony’s presiding officer was Maj. Gen. Erich Novak, mobilization assistant to the commander of the Pacific Air Forces. Novak traveled from Hawaii to the Hoosier State to preside over the retirement ceremony.

During the ceremony, Novak and Pemberton looked back and highlighted key events within Pemberton’s career.

After obtaining a communication and computer science degree from Manchester College, Pemberton's career began when he entered active duty by commissioning through the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School in 1985.

During his final remarks, Pemberton expanded on what he believes to be the most important qualities to have in order to have a prosperous career: professionalism and persistence.

He said professionalism means to be the best in your career field, constantly learning, and helping others to become their best, and to describe persistence, he used an example from his career.

Pemberton began his career as a Navigator, but when the career field was being phased out, he applied for an age waiver to attend Pilot Training. After being denied twice, he applied once again and to his surprise his age waiver was approved, and he began pilot training in 1998. 

“Be professional but be persistent. I can say that if I had not been persistent then, I would not be here with you today,” said Pemberton.

As a navigator and pilot, Pemberton flew numerous aircraft, amassing over 5,800 flight hours. His leadership and expertise was not limited to the flying. Pemberton also held various positions including director of operations, 434th Operations Support Squadron commander and operations group commander.

As commander of the 434th Air Refueling Wing, Pemberton led the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. With nearly 1,900 military, civilian, and contractor personnel at the installation, Pemberton's leadership and guidance was instrumental in the success of the Hoosier Wing.

Over the years, Pemberton's service has included mobilization and deployments in support of Operations Northern Watch, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom as well as other contingencies across the globe.

The retirement ceremony brought together friends, family, and others whose lives he impacted who came to celebrate Pemberton's many accomplishments and express their gratitude for his service to our nation.

“My hope is that I have had some influence in this wing,” Pemberton said. “As I was highlighting the amazing work that you guys do every single day…to my family, thank you for the support over the many years, I know that I would not be here without your love and support…Thank you all for coming out today, it is an honor to have your presence. Time is the one thing that you can never get back, so I know when you give your time that is a valuable commodity and that means a lot to me. Thank you very much.”

As Pemberton embarks on his next adventure, he leaves behind a legacy of excellence, dedication, and leadership at Grissom Air Reserve Base.

“I’m honored and I’m privileged to be here to retire my friend, Colonel Pemberton, and to celebrate his 37 years with him, his family, and all of you,” Novak said.

Novak centered his remarks around one common theme: family. He said family was a thread that he has carried all throughout his life and career, and it was this trait that formed the character basis for such an outstanding husband, father, officer, and Air Force leader.

“…Thom is able to build and nurture that intrinsic intangible thing of family both within the units and with his family,” said Novak. “Everyone who has been in contact with Thom will know exactly what I’m talking about; immediately you’re drawn to him, and you immediately become part of a team and part of a family.” 

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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