655th ISR Group honors original “plank holders” 10 years later

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rachel Goodspeed
  • 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Wing Public Affairs

When the 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Group activated in 2013 as the first U.S. Air Force Reserve Command ISR group, it embraced the “Plank Holder” tradition as part of its unique history. Ten years later, the group is honoring some of its original plank holders.

Lt. Col. Brent Allen, 1st Lt. Matt McDonald and retired Lt. Col. Audrey Swinney were presented official planks by current 655th ISRG Commander Col. Eric Bernkopf during a short ceremony Nov. 3 at the 655th IRS Wing headquarters. Plank holder and retired Master Sgt. Todd Cook was also honored in a separate ceremony.

“As part of observing the group’s 10-year history, we realized when our 16 original plank holders left that they were given appropriate ceremonies, but no actual plank, and we wanted to remedy that,” Bernkopf said. “We’re very proud of our group’s history, of the legacy the plank holders helped establish, and we look forward to continuing to shape the future of ISR over the next 10 years.”

The plank holder tradition is founded in the sea services to recognize crew members present at a ship’s first commissioning as the honorary owners of the vessel, said Ken Sloat, 655th ISRW historian. These crew members were given the title of “Plank Holder” to symbolize them holding the plank in place as the ship was being built. Upon a plank holder’s final departure from the ship, two bells would ring followed by the announcement, “plank holder departing.”

“On Sept. 28 when the unit stood up, 16 outstanding Airmen were named 655th ISRG plank holders. Their names and dates of duty to the group were inscribed on the unit’s Proffer Tray,” Sloat said. “When they departed, a bell was rung twice – a bell that now hangs in the wing’s headquarters office – and they were wished ‘fair winds and following seas.’”

After receiving their planks, the group reflected on their memories of standing up the ISR group, noting the close-knit relationships that were formed while building the organization from the ground up.

“We all came into the group from various backgrounds, bases and skillsets, coming together to build everything, from determining the programs, who would stand them up, and how,” Allen said, now director of the Joint Regional Intelligence Center at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. “It brings back some of the best memories of my nearly 34-year career. We were all taking a chance, and at a turning point in our careers, but we jelled as a team and became a family.”

Cook, McDonald and Swinney had similar sentiments.

“It was a huge honor to be the first person selected to be a member of the 655th and watching the growth and success of this exceptional wing brings me immense joy,” Swinney said.

Before departing, the plank holders took turns ringing the bell and enjoying the short reunion before returning to their current units.

“I have never worked with a team of individuals that I felt more bonded with than my fellow 655 ISRG plank holders,” Allen said. “To this day, my closest friends are those who either stood up the group or squadrons associated with the Group. I personally moved around to different positions within the organization to include the 71st [Intelligence Squadron], being a plank holder of the 655th ISRW when it was stood up, as well as the 16th IS. I have had a wealth of experience throughout different organizations and consider many members of the organization like family.”

655th ISRG Plank Holders (names and rank are as of their departure from the unit)

  • Maj. Brent J. Allen
  • Mr. Homer E. Carter Jr.
  • Maj. Jason C. Craw
  • Master Sgt. Todd A. Cook
  • Senior Master Sgt. Joseph F. Drake
  • Col. Douglas A. Drakeley
  • Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Echols
  • Master Sgt. Allen S. Hall
  • Master Sgt. Gloria A. Johnson
  • Maj. Kolin C. Newsome
  • Lt. Col. Nicole M. Powers
  • Col. Stefanie M. Roberts
  • Staff Sgt. Mark J. Sharon
  • Lt. Col. Audrey S. Swinney
  • Mr. Matthew K. Thompson
  • Chief Master Sgt. David L. Wright