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A Promotion for a Star Officer

  • Published
  • By Maj. Pam Carroll
  • 117 ARW
     A thirty-eight year veteran of the Air National Guard, and member of the 117 Air Refueling Wing, moves on to an office and a star at state headquarters.
     I had the honor of meeting with Brig. Gen. Paul A. "Poke" Pocopanni and talking with him about his journey and legacy in the unit. As I sat in the office and looked around, pictures and mementoes had already been removed from the walls and boxes packed anticipating his last few days here at the 117th. Realizing this is something we must all face one day yet it is sad to lose such a great leader and mentor for our base.
     One of the words mentioned many times during our interview was family. He stressed the importance of the individuals that he has crossed paths with over the years and the relationships that were built. Brig. Gen. Pocopanni coined the phrase so well when he said it was "bittersweet to have the opportunity to move on to state headquarters, but sad to leave behind the guard family he has come to know and love".
     As many of us know he has a nickname (as all aircrew do) so here is a little history about "Poke". Of course he is a big Auburn fan and attended AU until duty called. He enlisted in the ANG and scored so well on the entrance exam he was put in the Avionics shop and worked with communication and navigation. Thinking he would be in for his six-year term and then move on, life held a different road. After finishing technical school with the military he began again working toward his Bachelor's degree locally. Perseverance prevailed and he was commissioned, becoming a navigator in the 117 ARW, flying the F-4's.
     Working diligently in the unit "Poke" led us through the transition from F-4's to the tankers, BRAC and on to the addition of the Associate Active Duty Unit. When asked about the direction of the unit in the future he said, "We are in a great position moving forward from what happened in BRAC and now with the addition of the Associate Active Duty Unit. Also, the Intelligence Squadron's missions and all they are doing. Hopefully in the near future with the follow-on tankers the possibilities for this unit are limitless."
     "Poke" is involved in many projects for the base including charity events such as Dreams on Wings. As many of you know this is a non-profit event held at the base for ill and disabled children to have an airplane or helicopter ride and a day of fun with their family. He has spent many hours of his own time coordinating and organizing to ensure the success of such a wonderful cause. Even though he will be a part-timer now he plans on continuing his involvement in this vital community program.
     The position Brig Gen "Poke" is moving to is the Assistant Adjutant General for the ANG in the state of Alabama. It is a drill status job so he did mention he will be out looking for a full-time job. There are several projects at home he wants to work on while he has a break.
     Traveling has been a large part of "Poke's" life with all of the deployments the unit has been involved with over the years. I asked him where would be his choice of destination if he could choose anywhere in the world to go. He said, "Well, I guess you could say it's my heritage but I would love to go back to Italy. I did some traveling while deployed there but I wish I could take a summer off and go for at least a month visiting places like Venice and Milan. Go back to the ancestor's home country."
     The advice for newcomers on base from Brig. Gen. Pocapanni is to take advantage of the many educational benefits the guard has to offer. The possibilities are endless for them and it will open doors of opportunity whether it is here at the base or in the civilian sector.
     As the interview came to a close we talked about the many changes we have been through as a guard unit and in our careers. "Poke" said, "This has been an opportunity to do things people just dream about and be able to serve my country. Being promoted to General is the same thing and I am very fortunate and humbled to get this position."
     I couldn't help but ask him one more question that I know everyone is dying to know..."Poke's" favorite dessert. He said, "I love all desserts."
We are going to miss you "Poke".