Old Town native and Air Force Col. Kevin E. Blanchard, who returned recently from a deployment in Afghanistan, has assumed command of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

“He just got back maybe a month or so ago from a year in Afghanistan and now he’s the [base] commander,” said his mother, Nancy Blanchard of Old Town. “He said himself that he never, ever dreamt he would [attain such a high position in the Air Force]. He thought he was just a grunt, but he turned out to be more than that.”

His father, Dick Blanchard, said Kevin has great leadership skills. Blanchard’s parents, along with his sister, Wendy Blanchard, niece Alyssa Coyne, and his best friend from Old Town High School, Army Master Sgt. Brian Letourneau, who is stationed in Washington, D.C., attended the Aug. 10 promotion ceremony.

Col. Blanchard most recently served a one-year assignment as vice commander of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, where he led more than 2,500 airmen across five forward-operating locations employing, maintaining and supporting a mixed fleet of more than 130 aircraft, a Davis-Monthan Air Force Base press release states.

He succeeds Col. John Cherrey, who departed for an assignment at the Pentagon in June.

Lt. Gen. Robin Rand, 12th Air Force commander, presided over the ceremony and passed the wing guidon to Blanchard, effectively handing over command of the 355th Fighter Wing.

“As a combat-ready wing, the 355th [Fighter Wing] is going to be led by a great combat-tested warrior,” Rand said. “Colonel Blanchard has had a notable Air Force career, and his skills as a tactician and leader are well-known throughout the Air Force.”

At the ceremony, Blanchard thanked those he serves with.

“Commanding the 355th FW and serving D-M’s Airmen is an honor I never fathomed would be a reality in my career,” the new commander told his troops. “I am so proud, honored and humbled to be standing on this stage and I thank you for the opportunity.”

Blanchard flew combat and combat support missions in an A-10 Thunderbolt in Afghanistan, his second tour of duty. He also was previously deployed in Saudi Arabia, his mother said.

He graduated as valedictorian from Old Town High School in 1987 and went directly into the Air Force Academy in Colorado with a recommendation from then-U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell.

“We are not a military family,” Nancy Blanchard said.

Her son had been accepted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University but decided to go to the Air Force Academy instead.

His decision had a lot to do with the family’s financial situation, according to his mother.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, and it would cost him [only] $1,000 [to attend the academy],” she said. “He graduated from the Air Force Academy 20th out of 969 [students].”

Blanchard and his wife, Lori, have an 11-year-old son, Jacob.

“He was the youngest of five kids,” Nancy Blanchard said. “The older four pretty much teased him unmercifully. Maybe that helped him get there.”