The commander of an Air Force Red Horse squadron has died while deployed to Qatar in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the Defense Department announced Sunday.

Lt. Col. James C. Willis, 55, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was found dead at 7:30 a.m. June 26 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, according to a U.S. Air Forces Central news release. The noncombat-related incident is under investigation.

Willis commanded the New Mexico Air National Guard’s 210th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers out of Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The unit deployed for missions in Southwest Asia on April 16, according to a 150th Special Operations Wing news release at the time.

While deployed, Willis was a member of the 557th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron.

“The RED HORSE and engineer communities here are mourning the loss of one of our own,” said Col. Clifford Theony, 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group commander. “We have put every resource available to supporting James’ friends, family and the unit as a whole during this most difficult time. He was a valued member of our team, and will be deeply missed.”

Prior to his current assignment, Willis commanded the 150th Civil Engineer Flight where he had responsibility for New Mexico Air National Guard facilities and the Domestic Prime Power mission. Before that he served as environmental officer for the 150th.

A 1993 graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California, where he majored in electrical engineering, Willis received his commission from Officer Training School in 2002. He has deployed to contingencies in Israel, the Republic of Korea, the United States Virgin Islands, and numerous locations in the United States for construction projects, disaster relief, and weapons of mass destruction training and response.

“The New Mexico National Guard is saddened to learn of the loss of Lt. Col. James Willis,” the Guard said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

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