May 20, 2009

Air Guard Headquarters dedicated to respected leader and aviator

By Lt. Col. Debbie Magaldi
Virginia Air Guard Public Affairs

SANDSTON, Va. — The Virginia National Guard dedicated its Air Guard Headquarters facility, located at the Richmond International Airport, in the memory of a highly-regarded and long-serving 192nd Fighter Wing leader and aviator on May 19.

Nearly 150 family members, friends, and members and leadership of the Virginia Army and Air National Guard gathered to reflect on the life, accomplishments and legacy of Col. John R. Shurley, III, and to dedicate the Virginia Air National Guard headquarters building in his honor.


Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Page Shurley, widow of Col. John R. Shurley, III, unveil the memorial plaque May 19 dedicating the Virginia Air Guard Headquarters to the memory of Col. Shurley. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) 

Key speaker at the dedication was Virginia's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Robert Newman. He said, in part: "…For 50 years the 192nd Fighter Wing occupied these buildings. Due to actions that re-aligned the 192nd Fighter Wing  with the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base three years ago, the unit and its personnel have traveled 70 miles to the east to continue their service to Virginia and our country – now flying America's most advanced fighter, the F-22 Raptor.

"As with any great organization, a sense of our past has been a long held tradition. So it is understandable that while we have changed the jets we fly and the location from which we fly them, we have not forgotten those with whom we served in the past, and that we would seek to honor that service and the friendships that were born from our time together here. And preserving that legacy is what brings us here today.

"With the support of the Capital Region Airport Commission, the Virginia National Guard has reclaimed four buildings here at the Guard base to serve our state mission as the homeland security forces for the Commonwealth. This building, along with three others close by, will allow the Virginia Guard to preposition forces and equipment that will more quickly enable the Guard to respond to emergencies in Hampton Roads or the National Capital Region of Northern Virginia.


A plaque honoring the memory of Col. John R. Shurley, III was unveiled during the dedication ceremony held May 19 . (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

"The anchor of these buildings is the former wing headquarters building that we dedicate today. This building has now become the headquarters for the Virginia Air Guard and other supporting organizations. Because of the significance of this building to the Virginia National Guard's new mission, I feel that it is important to dedicate it to one of our Air Guard leaders from the recent past who's service was an example that all of us should follow.

"That leader was a decorated war veteran, pilot, commander and friend: Col. John Shurley. I first met John shortly after I signed in to the 149th Fighter Squadron in 1982. He was the squadron commander and was working hard to bring the 149th Fighter Squadron up to the demanding Air Force standards of the 1980s. He was making a great impact on the squadron and its pilots who were flying the newly assigned A-7 Corsair. John had the attitude that realistic training was essential if we were to be ready to defend our country from our enemies.

"I remember John as a no nonsense guy who led by example. He was transforming the Virginia Air Guard during the 1980's just as today's leaders are leading the transformation in the 21st century. John followed his command of the fighter squadron by assuming command of the support group, a diverse group of Airmen that included personnelists, firemen, police officers, doctors and lawyers – in this very building which we dedicate to him today.

"I think that if John were with us today, he would be humbled, yet proud that his service was recognized by those with whom he served and that the building from which he led the support group, will continue to serve Virginia in its important new missions."

Joining Newman at the podium, to share memories of Shurley's passion, professionalism and dedication to family, church, community and country were retired Brig. Gen. Bill Jones, retired Lt. Col. Mark Walton, and master of ceremonies Lt. Col. Bobby Sandford, Virginia Air National Guard. The invocation and benediction were given by Rev. Kenneth Goodrich, a good friend of Shurley and his family and pastor of Sandston Presbyterian Church.

Excerpts of the Military Biography of Col. John R. Shurley, III

Colonel Shurley joined the Virginia Air National Guard July 17, 1958, and entered pilot training as an aviation cadet. After graduating from pilot and advance training in the F-84F, he returned to the Virginia Air National Guard (VaANG) in 1960 and flew as a member of its 149th Fighter Squadron.

  Col. John R. Shurley

Col. John R. Shurley, III

In 1961 he was called to active duty as a result of the unit's mobilization for the Berlin Crisis. Colonel Shurley volunteered to remain on active duty when the VaANG was released from federal service in 1962. While on active duty he served with the 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, which was the first operational Air Force wing to fly the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter.

While stationed at MacDill AFB, he completed his Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Tampa, received a regular commission in the U.S. Air Force, and attended Army Paratrooper School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In 1965, the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing was transferred to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, where he flew 214 combat missions. In 1966 he was reassigned to the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona, as an F-4 instructor pilot. After completing his active duty service, Colonel Shurley returned to the VaANG in 1967 as a Drill Status Guardsman while working fulltime for the Virginia Department of Aviation.

He held several administrative positions with the Department of Aviation as well as flying the department's aircraft. He left the department in 1974 to become a fulltime Air Technician and flight instructor for the VaANG. From 1974 to 1987 he held the positions of Chief of Training, Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, Operations Officer and Squadron Commander.

In 1987, Colonel Shurley became the 192nd Mission Support Squadron Commander and was appointed Deputy Commander of Support in 1988; and served in that position until he retired in 1993. He was also promoted to colonel in 1988.

His military decorations and awards include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with eight devices, Air Force Commendation Medal, Combat Readiness Medal with four devices, National Defense Service Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Virginia National Guard Legion of Merit. Colonel Shurley was a command pilot with over 4500 hours of military flying time in aircraft including the A-7, C-47, F-4, F-84, F-105, T-33, T-34 and T-37.

He was an Elder of the Sandston Presbyterian Church where he also served as a Deacon, Sunday School Teacher and Superintendent of the Sunday School program. He was Chairman of the Board of Management of the Chickahominy Branch of the Richmond YMCA, the East Henrico Exchange Club , and an honorary life member of the Highland Springs PTA.

Colonel Shurley succumbed after a courageous battle with cancer. He is survived by his beloved wife Page, son John (Jay), daughter Elizabeth (Dell), and two grandchildren.

Click HERE to return to the top of the page ~ Click HERE to return to the news directory