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SAAF Museum Appoints New Officer Commanding

By Amn Lebogang Ramaboea, AD ASTRA magazine and photos by 5 ASU

The South African Air Force Museum (SAAFM) has installed its 7th Officer Commanding (OC) since its official establishment in 1978, though it started functioning in 1973. The Change of Command (COC) ceremony was held at the Museum’s McGregor hall/Art Gallery on the 16 January 2009.

Lt Col Willem Andries Jacobus Nel steps into an office that has done great things for the organisation. This is an institution that provides for the preservation and display of the rich history and heritage of the SAAF. The ideas and actions of Col Derek Spolander will be challenging take forward. Col Spolander served as Officer Commanding (OC) of the Museum for 4 years until the appointment of Lt Col Nel on 1 January 2009.

Col Derek Spolander in his last address as the OC of the SAAFM

Col Spolander has made huge impact upon the good fortunes of the Museum since his appointment in 2005. However, the 55 year old will not be totally lost to the organisation, on 1 January 2009 he was appointed as Senior Staff Officer Air at Chief of Joint Operations. The former OC of the SAAFM takes with him a wealth of experience into the new post. Among some of his accolades he has served as a military Attaché in countries like France, Belgium and the Netherlands. He has served all this posts with diligence and respect to his superiors and subordinates.

In his parting address Col Spolander said, “It has been a hard years, very hard but a successful 4 years. In keeping with our philosophy that a Museum must be kept alive and continually changing, numerous new displays have been completed and many more are in the process”.

He added that this was with great help from Honoree Colonel Tokyo Sexwale. He also said he leaves a Museum that of late is being recognised as one of the more prominent in the country. He praised his coliques Maj Gen Winston Thackwray (ret) and Lt Col Piet Claassen for their continued support during his turner.

 Lt Col Willem Nel taking reigns from Col Derek Spolander

The 46-year-old Lt Col Nel has inherited a healthy unit, which he has to grow and enjoy. The acceptance of command parade in his honor came a day after his birthday, born on the 15th January 1963 in Bloemfontein. He completed his matriculation at Technical high school in Bloemfontein, in 1980 and joined the SAAF the following year.

In 1988 he did Officers Forming Course. He was then appointed as Technical Officer of 19 Squadron at AFB Hoedspruit; the environment at the Museum will not be new to him. Lt Col Nel qualified as an Aviation Accident Investigator from the University of Southern California in 1992.

Lt Col Nel with his vast experience has investigated approximately 44 aviation accidents. The accidents include the high profile cases of the late former South African Cricket captain Mr Hansie Cronje and the Spitfire of Mr Mike Snoyman.

In an interview with Ad Astra magazine on 16 January 2009, Lt Col Willem Nel said: “I have just recently completed the Joint Senior Command and Staff program. Knowledge obtained from the course, I believe, will help me in my new post; during the program I was awarded the best Air force student and 3rd overall. I am happy to have been chosen as OC of this prestigious unit”.

The new OC of the SAAFM is married to Alita and they are blessed with two children Nadia and Willem. The family attended the ceremony for moral support. Among guests were various senior officers of the organisation. Attending dignitaries included Chief of the Air Force (CAF) Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano.

CAF requested a fly past practice on the day just before the ceremony. The practice was in support of the Air Force Day’s 89th Anniversary parade that is scheduled for 30 January 2009.


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