The commander of the Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing was relieved last week due to his leaders losing faith in his abilities.

“Leadership lost trust and confidence in Col. Douglas DeMaio’s ability to command,” Maj. Jacqueline Krimmel, director of public affairs for the Alabama National Guard, told Task & Purpose. 

DeMaio was replaced by Col. Brian Vaughn on Aug. 2, about a year and two months after DeMaio took over command of the 187th in May 2021. 

Krimmel did not state the reason for DeMaio’s relief, but she said that there is currently no investigation underway. Most tours of command last two years before the officer is transferred to another assignment, and DeMaio’s three predecessors at the helm of the 187th all commanded the wing for about that long. 

The Air Force made a hype video for a new fighter wing commander. He was fired a year later
Col. Douglas D. DeMaio assumes command of the 187th Fighter Wing May 5, 2021, at a change of command ceremony held in the hangar at Dannelly Field, Ala. Brig. Gen. William L. Sparrow, Alabama Air National Guard commander, presided over the ceremony. (Jim Bentley/U.S. Air National Guard)

As wing commander, DeMaio was responsible for 1,400 personnel and 22 F-16 fighter jets, according to his command biography. The colonel himself is an experienced F-16 pilot, with more than 2,800 hours flying the Viper and with five combat deployments to Southwest Asia under his belt. However, DeMaio’s history with the Viper did not dampen his enthusiasm for the 187th’s mission of transitioning to the F-35 Lightning II and preparing for possible wars against Russia or China.

“In a few short years, the ramp behind you will be filled with F-35s,” DeMaio said when he took command on May 5, 2021. “You know our enemies are becoming more powerful every day and we must be ready for them. Our job will be to transition to the F-35 under the lens of agile combat employment and to train multi-capable airmen in the heritage of the Tuskegee Airmen.”

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The concept “agile combat employment” refers to the Air Force strategy for complicating an adversary’s targeting process by standing up more and smaller airstrips across the theater of operations. A key tenet of ACE is “multi-capable airmen,” where airmen can perform tasks outside their usual job to help stand up airfields in the middle of nowhere. The colonel viewed those concepts as being part of the legacy established by the Tuskegee Airmen, the group of Black American fighter and bomber pilots trained in Alabama who achieved an outstanding combat record in the skies over Europe during WWII. The pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47 and other fighter planes red, thereby earning the nickname Red Tails.

“The Tuskegee Airmen won through meticulous preparation, rapid deployment, and outpacing the enemy at every turn,” DeMaio said. “This is the legacy we will build upon now with Agile Combat Operations.”

The messaging in DeMaio’s speech was consistent with a hype video made in honor of the wing’s new “Red Tail One,” the designation for the 187th commander.

“He’s very high-speed and I’ve also come to realize he’s actually in tune with airmen,” one anonymous voice said about DeMaio in the video.

“He cares about people, he cares about the mission, he’s very passionate about what he does,” said another.

“We’re talking about somebody that thinks differently,” said a third, “and I think Col. DeMaio is going to be that guy.”

For his part, the new Red Tail One seemed just as pumped in his change of command speech.

“Red Tails, you may never know what it means to me to be standing up here, but you’re going to feel it, and you’re going to see it every day I lead you,” he said. “We will accelerate the Red Tail legacy and become the best F-35 wing on the planet.”

The F-35 transition continues, though now DeMaio will no longer be at the helm.

“We are looking forward to the future success of the 187th Fighter Wing and the receipt of the F-35,” Krimmel said.

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