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MXG commander honored with final flight

U.S. Air Force Col. Barton Welker, the commander of the 182nd Maintenance Group, Illinois Air National Guard, embraces a colleague after his “fini flight” at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., July 25, 2016. Welker is scheduled to retire Aug. 1 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer) (Identification badge was digitally obscured for OPSEC.)

U.S. Air Force Col. Barton Welker, the commander of the 182nd Maintenance Group, Illinois Air National Guard, embraces a colleague after his “fini flight” at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., July 25, 2016. Welker is scheduled to retire Aug. 1 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer) (Identification badge was digitally obscured for OPSEC.)

U.S. Air Force Col. Barton Welker, the commander of the 182nd Maintenance Group, Illinois Air National Guard, is doused with water by his spouse after his “fini flight” at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., July 25, 2016. Welker is scheduled to retire Aug. 1 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

U.S. Air Force Col. Barton Welker, the commander of the 182nd Maintenance Group, Illinois Air National Guard, is doused with water by his spouse after his “fini flight” at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., July 25, 2016. Welker is scheduled to retire Aug. 1 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

U.S. Air Force Col. Barton Welker, the commander of the 182nd Maintenance Group, Illinois Air National Guard, is doused with water after his “fini flight” at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., July 25, 2016. Welker is scheduled to retire Aug. 1 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

U.S. Air Force Col. Barton Welker, the commander of the 182nd Maintenance Group, Illinois Air National Guard, is doused with water after his “fini flight” at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., July 25, 2016. Welker is scheduled to retire Aug. 1 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

PEORIA, Ill. -- The commander of the 182nd Maintenance Group was honored by the 182nd Airlift Wing with the time-honored tradition of a final flight July 25 in Peoria, Ill.

Family and colleagues greeted Col. Barton W. Welker upon his landing with the customary showering of water and champagne. The "fini" flight recognized the colonel's planned Aug. 1 retirement after 34 years of military service.

Welker enlisted in the Illinois Air National Guard in February 1982 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant by the Academy of Military Science in Knoxville, Tenn. four years later. He was selected to command the 182nd Maintenance Group in March 2006 and began employing the LEAN Six Sigma concept, which improved the unit's aircraft inspection process by 40 percent. Under the colonel's leadership, the unit achieved the highest mission capable rate of every C-130 Hercules unit worldwide eight out of the last nine years.

Welker is veteran of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He earned numerous awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit, three Meritorious Services Medals and two Air Medals. He is command-rated pilot with more than 2,300 flight hours in the T-37 Tweet, T-38 Talon, C-131E Samaritan, C-26A Metroliner and C-130H Hercules aircraft.