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News > 851 ELSG commander prepares to retire, calls 28-year career 'amazing'
Col. Shaw retirement
Col. James W. Shaw (left), 851st Electronic Systems Group commander, celebrates with Lt. Col. Chris Eisenbies, 638th Electronic Systems Squadron commander, after the Global Hawk Block 40 rollout in Palmdale, Calif., June 2009. Colonel Shaw is preparing to retire from the Air Force after more than 28 years of service. A retirement ceremony will be held June 25 at 10 a.m. at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass. (Courtesy photo)
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851 ELSG commander prepares to retire, calls 28-year career 'amazing'

Posted 6/17/2010   Updated 6/17/2010 Email story   Print story


by Patty Welsh
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

6/17/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Upon entering the Air Force as an ROTC graduate with a degree in chemical engineering, Col. James W. Shaw was not convinced the Air Force was where his future resided.

"I had dreamed of a civilian career in engineering," the commander of the 851st Electronic Systems Group said. "But the longer I stayed in, the more I fell in love with what we do."

As Colonel Shaw prepares to retire with more than 28 years of service to the Air Force, he said the experience has been "truly amazing."

"I've been blessed to be working with the best people in the world and able to work on some of the most exciting, most fun missions."

For the past seven years, Colonel Shaw has been working at Hanscom, first on the E-10 program, then as the deputy systems program director for Joint STARS, as vice wing director of the 554th Electronic Systems Wing and now as the commander of the 851st ELSG and program director for the radar technology insertion program.

Some program accomplishments he is most proud of include the final delivery of 17 Joint STARS aircraft, which have had a tremendous impact on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the restructuring of RTIP.

He said an important part of his jobs has been investing in people and ensuring Airmen are combat ready.

"Taking care of people and taking care of the mission have been hugely satisfying," he said. "Spending time developing, leading people and preparing them to take the next step has been one of the most exciting parts of my career. It's our job to find the next leadership of the Air Force. We need to cultivate talent and then give them the opportunity to shine."

The colonel noted that his own path to senior leadership took some interesting twists and turns, and that his career did not follow the traditional acquisition career officer path.

After being commissioned at the University of Texas in 1981, Colonel Shaw's first assignment was as a space system analyst with the 544th intelligence Analysis Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

From there, he moved on to the NASA Johnson Space Center and worked payload integration for the space shuttle. He was able to interact with the astronauts, do direct work on the launch vehicle and be in the control room when missions were flying.

"This was a childhood dream," he said. "Which one of us when we were kids didn't watch folks going to the moon? I never dreamed I'd get this close to it."

His next opportunity was as a flight test engineer on the B-2 stealth bomber program at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

"We would test the limits of the aircraft, seeing how fast and low it could go," Colonel Shaw said.

While at Edwards, he also had the chance to attend Air Force Test Pilot School, which he said had to be one of the most fun, best years of his entire life.

"I love to fly; I love that part of the business," he said. "As an engineer at the Test Pilot School, we did everything the pilots did. So not only was I able to get the equivalent of a master's degree in aero engineering, I was able to get more than 100 flying hours in different kinds of aircraft."

In fact, in one year at Edwards Air Force Base, Colonel Shaw had 163 flying hours in more than 30 different aircraft.

Other past assignments have included working on F-16 avionics and special projects, being the director of engineering for the Joint STARS Joint Test Force in Melbourne, Fla., and positions at the Pentagon. He also had the chance to attend Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College and the Army War College.

Regardless of individual assignments, however, the colonel encourages everyone to focus on the things that count.

"Our job is to deliver outstanding warfighting capability and combat ready Airmen. And it's not just enough to do the job, we need to make sure this enterprise is going to be here for the long haul and we're meeting the challenges of the future."

Colonel Shaw's retirement ceremony is scheduled to be held June 25 at 10 a.m. at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass., with a barbecue to follow.

"I'm looking forward to the future and the opportunities ahead, but if people ask if I would do it all again, the answer is 'Absolutely!'" he said. "There is no greater gift than to do a job you have passion for and feel like you're making a difference."

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