After 25 years, fighter pilot now flies a top state desk

October 17, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Bruce Tuxill's passion for planes has taken him from flying with his father in World War II-era training aircraft to piloting sleek fighter planes.

"I can't imagine doing anything else," said Colonel Tuxill, a 25-year fighter pilot with the Maryland Air National Guard.

The Ellicott City resident oversees the 175th Fighter Group and 135th Airlift Group at Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River.

This summer, Gov. William Donald Schaefer swore in Colonel Tuxill as assistant adjutant general of the Maryland Air National Guard, making him one of the top three military officers in the state -- but ending his days as a fighter pilot.

"A piece of me will always be here," Colonel Tuxill said during an interview at the base.

"I will miss it."

Now his duties include overseeing about 1,800 full-time and part-time reservists and a budget that totaled $49.7 million in fiscal year 1993.

Colonel Tuxill, 48, will also have to cope with defense cutbacks; the base expects to lose 41 jobs and six A-10 attack planes.

"We're doing it very slowly and controlled," said Colonel Tuxill, who is using hiring freezes, job attrition and buyout programs to reduce personnel.

Maryland National Guard leaders praised Colonel Tuxill's leadership skills on and off the base.

"We selected Colonel Tuxill because he's done it all," said Maj. Gen. James F. Fretterd, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard.

"He gets along with the community superbly, and he's a good neighbor."

Colonel Tuxill's daughters also gave high marks to the career reservist.

"He's gentle and kind and extremely compassionate," said his daughter Danielle, 20.

And daughter Alicia, 11, said he's "just a regular guy" who likes to play baseball and badminton.

Colonel Tuxill began flying fighter planes for the Maryland Air National Guard in 1968. During those years, he has flown F-86s, A-37s and A-10s.

"Flying airplanes like this is the most fun I've ever had," said Colonel Tuxill as he inspected a row of A-10 attack planes near the base runway.

For the past 10 years, he commanded the 175th Fighter Group, a unit of nearly 1,000 reservists and 25 A-10s.

In August, two A-10s from the 175th led a successful NATO air strike in Bosnia. The unit was also deployed to Panama during the 1989 Noriega crisis and was on standby for the 1991 allied invasion of Iraq.

"What I feel most pride in is how the unit has continued to achieve and grow through the years," Colonel Tuxill said.

Three years ago, the 175th Fighter Group won "Gunsmoke '91," the Air Force Gunnery Competition. The base recently received the first "outstanding" rating for operational readiness given by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to any unit in the 9th Air Force since 1976.

nTC Colonel Tuxill is also responsible for the 135th Airlift Group, a unit of about 800 reservists and eight C-130 transport planes that have been deployed to Somalia, Panama and Haiti. The cargo planes have delivered everything from rice and ammunition, to a "60 Minutes" television crew that wanted to cover the Somalian crisis.

Colonel Tuxill said he will command the two units using a hands-on leadership style.

"I do a lot of leadership by wandering and talking," he said. "You'll find the climate, and you'll find whether things are going well."

One of the most challenging aspects of his job is reducing personnel, Colonel Tuxill said. A hiring freeze has been in place for the past 18 months, and about 14 reservists have signed up for a buyout program in addition to the 41 jobs that will be eliminated through attrition.

Ensuring job stability "is harder than ever," Colonel Tuxill said. "With defense cutbacks it's unrealistic to expect to stay" at past personnel levels.

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