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Tradition of excellence handed to new leader of Lankford Center

MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center may be the least familiar higher education campus in Blount County. Surrounded by a security fence and protected by armed guards, it is not easily accessible.

But when it comes to maintaining the nation's security and to attracting a diverse student body from across the country to this community, the TEC stands alone.

That is why Chief Master Sgt. Donald E. Felch could say these words when he accepted the leadership of the Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center Feb. 10 at ceremonies before 500 guests at Wilson Hall at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base: "It's great to be back. It's like coming home, it really is."

Many guardsmen have come to the TEC for education and training and left with an indelible impression of excellence embodied by the professionalism of airmen who have passed through its classrooms.

Add Chief Master Sgt. Felch to the mix. The new commandant is no stranger to McGhee Tyson Air Base. More than 10 years ago, he saw the inscribed stone placed at the base of the campus flagpole by his graduating class, Noncommissioned Officer Academy Class 98-04, as a gift to the center.

The Lankford Center, established in 1968, has trained more than 30,000 enlisted service members to lead, follow, and manage at its Airman Leadership School, Noncommissioned Officer Academy and satellite broadcast version of each program.
More than 2,200 enlisted members attend courses at the center each year.

Felch comes here from Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala., where he served as the Air National Guard advisor to the commander of the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education. As advisor, he provided guidance on Air National Guard issues involving policy, program requirements and curriculum for all levels of enlisted education and professional development.

Felch's new assignment, as he accepts the Lankford Center leadership from Chief Master Sgt. Deborah F. Davidson, who held the position since 2007, is to continue the legacy of success.

That legacy traces back to a native of Alabama who became a fixture in Blount County: Paul H. Lankford, hand-picked by Major Gen. I.G. Brown, head of the nation's Air National Guard, in 1967 to establish the NCO Academy at McGhee Tyson. In 1968, Lankford became the first commandant. He held that post for the NCO Academy and Leadership School until he retired from active duty in 1981.

Lankford was among U.S. Army personnel on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines early in World War II who were forced to surrender to the Japanese. An estimated 600 Americans and 65,000 Filipinos died on the 65-mile forced march that followed. Paul ended up being shipped to Manchuria where temperatures dropped to 42 degrees below zero. He spent four years as a POW and his weight dropped to 80 pounds.

Lankford died in 2008 at age 89. For 27 years after his retirement, he had accepted speaking requests by Air Guard and other military groups across the nation and even in Japan.

Outside his new office window, Felch can see the stone below the stars and stripes -- the same stone his class donated to the Lankford Center. It is inscribed with these eternal words: "With the blood of every airman, seaman, soldier and marine, woven into her every stitch, she still waves back at us."

Congratulations on your new command, Chief Master Sgt. Donald E. Felch. You have big boots to fill. No doubt your own education at the Lankford Center has prepared you well. We wish you utmost success.