Jan 22, 2011 1:14 AM by Ariel Wesler

Former astronaut leads the way for Vandenberg

A former astronaut is the first woman to land a job as the highest ranking officer there.

Major General Susan Helms was promoted to Lieutenant General this morning at a change of command ceremony on base. Helms took over command from Lieutenant General Larry James. She is the new leader of the 14th Air Force and Joint Function Component Command for Space at Vandenberg.

Sitting among her fellow officers, you would never know Maj. Gen. Susan Helms is an accomplished astronaut.

"She's an expert at conducting satellite operations both from the ground and from being on board satellites. You don't get any more in depth knowledge than that," said General Kevin Chilton with U.S. Strategic Command.

Helms has built an extensive and impressive career with Air Force as a former astronaut. She was the first U.S. military woman in space and has logged more than 200 days in space. She also holds the world record for longest spacewalk at eight hours and 56 minutes.

Flags were exchanged this morning signaling the change of command. For Lieutenant General Larry James, it was an emotional day. He's been the commander since December 2008. He will be leaving to serve at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

"It truly has been my honor to be part of this team for the last two years. It just doesn't get any better than this. . .Susan Helms, you're an awesomely lucky lady," James said.

"I will do my very to ensure your confidence is well placed and that the extraordinary integrity and performance of the command will sustain as we continue to execute our mission, face our challenges, and take care of our people," Helms said.

People ready to welcome a skilled leader.

Helms can also add one more item to her long list of accomplishments. She is one of two peopled named to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame this year. She will be inducted in May at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In her most recent position, Helms served as the Director of Plans and Policy for U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.


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