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In a ceremony Tuesday, Col. Larry Wheeler assumed formal command of the 75th Air Base Wing, which he has informally headed for a month.

As wing commander, Wheeler, 47, is responsible for the day-to-day tasks that keep Hill Air Force Base running smoothly. He oversees support services such as fire, police, medical, housing, food, and ground maintenance."He's sort of the mayor of the air base," said Maj. Gen. Pat Condon, the ranking commander at Hill.

Wheeler came to Hill in October as vice commander of the newly activated 75th Wing but soon found himself doing commander duties upon the retirement of Col. Keith Bennett.

This is an uncertain time for Hill, which has been mentioned as a possible candidate for closure or reduction in 1995.

"The future here, it's a formidable challenge," said Wheeler. "(In fact), `formidable challenge' may be an understatement."

Wheeler was previously stationed at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana, where he was involved in the down-sizing and inactivation of an Air Force wing during that base's 1993 realignment.

"Our force has become lean and mean," Wheeler said. "I feel with the down-sizing and reduction in force we are already left with the cream of the crop."

The overlap of Wheeler's realignment background with Hill's possible realignment or closure is not unusual, said retired Maj. Gen. Mike Pavich, former commander of McLellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., and president of Hill/DDO '95, a group working to keep Hill open.

"The closure's been going on for a while, so there's a lot of people with that kind of experience."

Wheeler has been in the Air Force since 1971. His wartime experience includes 31 Southeast Asian combat missions.