Col. Lee Smith leaving 120th to serve as inspector general for Air Mobility Command

Col. Lee Smith is turning over command of the 120th Airlift Wing on Saturday to Col. Buel Dickson, the current maintenance group commander.

This past week, Smith also marked 25 years in the Air Force.

He’s headed to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, but about 25 miles east of St. Louis, his wife’s hometown.

Smith came to the 120th in March 2015 and it was the first time an Air Mobility Command had a dual status-commander. Such a commander serves in federal and state status simultaneously and requires the approval of the secretary of defense and the governor.

The dual-status role allowed for better integration between the active force and the National Guard members, he said.

“It’s great to see the Air Force become stronger,” through the use of the dual-status function, he said.

The career C-130 pilot arrived as the 120th was transitioning from F-15s to C-130s, a conversion that was officially completed last October.

About 55 percent of the airmen cross-trained during the conversion and have already completed one overseas deployment and earned back to back outstanding unit awards.

Smith’s stint with the Air Guard has given him a better understanding of the Guard, which is a complicated system with multiple statuses of service, such as traditional Guard and full-time technicians and more.

On his departure, Smith said he’s very optimistic about the future of the 120th.

The wing is currently using a drop zone at Malsmtrom Air Force Base and the airport, as well as developing a drop zone in the Fort Benton area and dirt runways at the airport and Malmstrom.

Those training spaces will allow the 120th to become a “world-class training facility,” Smith said. Currently, there are no dirt landing zones in the northwest region, and as that’s a critical skill for the C-130 mission, having two in Great Falls would likely bring other C-130 units here to train.

“It will be a great training facility for the C-130 world,” he said.

Smith is headed to be the inspector general for Air Mobility Command and said officials are planning to use his active and Guard experience to help improve the unit inspection process. The 120th is scheduled for an inspection this fall.