VIENNA - John Boccieri will now be commanding some of the men and women he voted to send overseas to fight in two wars.
The former U.S. Representative and Youngstown native became the new commander of the 773rd Airlift Squadron Saturday during a change of command ceremony at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
Col. Boccieri, who took control of the unit from retiring Col. Dan Miliken, a Farmington native, said he has several different perspectives after serving as Ohio's 16th District Representative, doing four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and two years working at the Pentagon.
"I've actually voted to send my friends that I'm now serving with over to these troubled areas to fight for nation's military objectives," Boccieri said. "Now I'm actually training them and leading them. It's a tremendous responsibility and an honor. I think we can meet the challenges ahead of us."
Boccieri, 42 of Alliance, said he will help prepare the base for continuing military budget cuts. In March, the Air Force cut 130 jobs at the base, leaving about 1,550 workers.
"There's going to be some changes our base is going to have to go through just like anywhere else across the country," he said.
"We're serve proudly and we'll walk and march to that drum beat and cadence when that time comes. We have a rich tradition in this squadron, started in 1943, and we've fought across the globe. Our readiness will be maintained even with these challenges coming out of Washington."
Boccieri, who helped Ursuline High School win the 1988 state baseball championship and went on to play one year of professional baseball for the Portsmouth Explorers, was a B-52 pilot in the Air Force from 1994 to 1998 and joined the reserves in 2000.
He served as in the state legislature from 2000 to 2008, when he was elected as the U.S. Representative for the district that had covered parts of Stark, Wayne, Medina, and Ashland counties. He was the first Democratic candidate in nearly 60 years to represent the 16th District. He lost to Republican Jim Renacci in the 2010 election.
Boccieri said the votes he cast to maintain the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the toughest during his tenure from 2009 to 2011. He said he was at a county fair in his district when a supporter walked up and hugged him, saying his cousin had recently been killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan.
Shortly after, a reporter asked him about what votes concerned him the most.
"The votes that kept me up at night, where I was tossing and turning in my bed, praying I was making the right decision to keep our men and women in harm's way," he said. "Now serving in the uniform, I'm approaching my 19th year, now I have a different perspective.
''Now I have to lead those troops that I voted to put in harm's way. Now I have to train them and lead them to make sure they have everything they need to get home safely, honorably and soon."