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Former Woodbourne recruit returns as new Base Commander

The fanfare of a military parade was on full display at RNZAF Base Woodbourne today, to herald a change of command.

23 May, 2024

Wing Commander Michele Mitchell is the new Base Commander, taking over the role from Group Captain Paul Drysdale, who’s held the position since late 2021. 

Group Captain Drysdale conducted an inspection of the parade before Wing Commander Mitchell and her family were greeted onto the parade ground.

An impressive haka welcomed the new base commander after Group Captain Drysdale handed over the Symbol of Base Command, a large wooden patu, which was blessed.

“RNZAF Base Woodbourne has played a key role in my development, firstly as an aircraft tradesperson, then as a young engineering officer, and now my development will continue as I embark on this next leg of my journey, as your Base Commander,” Wing Commander Mitchell said.

Her new role comes at a time when the Royal New Zealand Air Force is implementing its initiative Plan Astra – which aims to bolster the base.

“For us here at Woodbourne, that means we will continuously review and adjust our training, to ensure it adequately prepares our aviators for future missions; missions that will demand resilience, agility, and an ability to integrate effectively with our military partners and other key organisations,” Wing Commander Mitchell said.

“In addition to our ground-based training, we will continue to develop Woodbourne’s capability to provide a high-end operational training environment, supporting the collective Air Force to train as well as fight.” 

Wing Commander Mitchell paid tribute to the base’s former commander, Group Captain Drysdale.

“It is an absolute privilege to take over command from you,” she said.

“During our handover I have seen the outstanding work you have achieved here and I have only heard high praise for the leadership you have delivered, and challenging decisions you have made over the past two and half years.”

An engineer by trade, Wing Commander Mitchell’s return to Woodbourne marks a full circle as she began her Air Force career there in 1996.

She said before the parade that while many of the core elements are the same, training has undergone a number of changes since then.

“The reasons why we join the Air Force haven’t changed much over time – we want to go overseas, we want to get good training, be part of serving our country and having a real sense of purpose in what we do.”