551 ELSG commander retires after 26 years of service

  • Published
  • By Monica Morales
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Decades after being told he would not serve as an Air Force officer, 551st Electronic Systems Group Commander Col. Doug Railey has proven the odds wrong on multiple counts when he retires July 1 after 26 years of service.

"Being a group commander has been a true privilege, and command is a job that none of us take for granted," Colonel Railey said. "There is no doubt that being a commander is the best job in the Air Force. I feel like I am leaving at the top of my profession."

As the son of an Air Force father, he had the opportunity to travel and experience military life as a dependent. Now as commander of the 551st Electronic Systems Group, he has been able to realize his lifelong Air Force dream of serving and commanding - the responsibilities of his position include all aspects of modernization and sustainment of the United States Airborne Warning and Control System and international Airborne Early Warning and Control fleets.

Realizing this dream, however, didn't come about without challenge. During his junior year at Louisiana State University, he found himself facing a battle with cancer that stood in the way of his future career.

"I lost my opportunity, was disenrolled from ROTC and told I couldn't be in the Air Force anymore," the colonel said. "I was devastated and wrote many letters of appeal to Air Force leadership ... but the answer was always the same."

In response, he received a letter from the Air Force Surgeon General that stated he would never serve on active duty.

"He wished me the best for future endeavors," he said.

Despite taking on other jobs after his graduation from LSU, the Air Force was something he always kept within sight. In 1981, after six years had passed since his initial cancer diagnosis, he tried again and wrote a desperate letter to the Secretary of the Air Force to consider granting him a special medical waiver to re-enter the service.

"When I wrote that letter to the Secretary of the Air Force, I practically begged him to grant me a waiver to let me back in," he said. "And when he wrote back granting it, I was overwhelmed with joy. After proving I was medically fit, the following year I commissioned and got my start in the United States Air Force."

Ever since then, he said, the Air Force has provided him countless opportunities to experience many duties.

He came into the Air Force as a transportation officer in charge of about 80 enlisted personnel at the 320th Bomb Wing, at Mather AFB. Heading up a large office, and then moving into the fast-paced world of the aerial port business was an "extreme challenge" that he learned a great deal from, he said.

"Unless you were around in those days of Strategic Air Command, you have no idea of the tremendous pressure to launch bomber and tankers."

Additionally, his time in logistics and planning required him to learn what it meant to work C-130 deployments and actually fly the missions during the Operational Readiness Inspections.

"As a logistics planner, you're out on the first aircraft to get the deployed area set up, and you get to come home on the last aircraft. Many a time I sat on the ramp in Korea waiting and hoping after 90 days of being gone that the aircraft would show up to take us home," he said.

It was time well spent in terms of acquiring skills in other career fields and at the Air Logistics Center, he said, that eventually led him to become an acquisitions officer, paving the way for his selection to be a group commander here.

"My career has had so many highlights and getting to finish up as a commander is the most rewarding. I was thrilled when I was selected to return to Hanscom -- I always hoped that would happen and what a privilege to get to serve in AWACS."

Under his tenure, the group has accomplished what he calls milestones so numerous that it would "take hours" to hit upon them all.

One of the group's biggest accomplishments, Colonel Railey said, is its Block 40/45 Program which is the largest upgrade performed on the AWACS in its 30-year history. This modification completely upgrades the back end of the jet.

"We're in mission test and have met incredible successes so far. To see that program continue to move forward ... is just a huge plus for ESC, the Air Force and nation," he said.

During his time, his capabilities team ensured success for JEFX 2006, and are now in the thick of Empire Challenge. Not only were they planning for the future, he said, but they were taking care of the present.

"Last year we received an Urgent Operational Need from the E-3 warfighter for aircraft deployed in the theatre to get chat communication on board. The capabilities team came through with Iridium phone concept and did it for a small amount of dollars and at lightning speed," he said.

"The people I have served with are what make the Air Force such a special place to work and live. My 551st AWACS team is phenomenal, dedicated and I'm so grateful to them for all that has happened during my three years," the colonel said. "At Hanscom, the great combination of talented military, civilian, MITRE and support contractors are who make it all happen each day."

And as for his own retirement future, the colonel said he hasn't yet pinpointed exactly what he'll do with his free time -- there's travel, golf, and the possibility of moving South to be near family, he said.