How Jill Kelley Got Close to Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Allen

The David Petraeus sex scandal not only cost the CIA director his job, it has generated a lot of interest in the general’s time as commander at U.S. Central Command in Tampa. And it spawned an investigation of a second general, John Allen, over email exchanges with a Tampa woman.

Many outside the Tampa community are questioning how two four-star generals like Petraeus and Allen could have become friends with a socialite like Jill Kelley.

Col. Lenny Richoux, as commander of Tampa’s MacDill AFB from July 2010-July 2012, created the Friends of MacDill program. He’s now serving in Belgium at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

A broader look at Tampa’s military and civilian communities gives some insight.

Among the many titles Jill Kelley has claimed – from honorary counsel to honorary ambassador – is the designation as a Friend of MacDill.

The “Friends of MacDill” program was started in 2010 by former MacDill Air Force Base commander Col. Lenny Richoux who talked with WUSF in May.

“My number one job when I wake up in the morning is base security,” Richoux said. “Is the base secure? I can absolutely tell you that it is, but at the same time I want to open it up.”

During his two-year tenure as base commander, Richoux reached out to hundreds of civic leaders, elected officials and other military advocates. He invited them to visit the base and volunteer.

His philosophy was that the base belonged to the taxpayers. So, he started the MacDill Friends program.

“Basically, I am vouching for you to come on my base. I meet you. I shake your hand. I get to know you. I tell you about the base. You express interest,” Richoux said. “And then we vet you through a security process. Then we grant you access to the base for a limited period of time.”

Jill Kelley got one of those “Friends” passes that allowed her access to the base during daylight hours. Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio received a “Friends of MacDill” pass too, but hasn’t used it.

“It’s a nice good will thing to do to say hey you’re welcome on the base,” Iorio said. “The one thing that I regret from all this brouhaha that has cropped up over this one couple that has opened up their home to have parties for the military and that’s a very generous thing to do. But it does not typify nor does it represent the relationship of our community to MacDill Air Force Base.”

Credit Amy Scherzer / Tampa Bay Times. Gen. David Petraeus, left, Scott and Jill Kelley and Holly Petraeus watch the 2010 Gasparilla parade from the Kelleys’ front lawn.

Iorio attended parties at the Kelley’s house as mayor. She said what’s not getting out is how the community supports MacDill and military families in so many other ways like volunteering at the James A. Haley VA Hospital and the Bayshore Patriots waving flags every Friday on Bayshore since the 9-11 attacks.

One volunteer working with families from CENTCOM’s International Coalition is Tampa resident Dena Leavengood. She unofficially started helping families find schools and get drivers licenses soon after 9-11 when officers from 69 countries and their families were brought into MacDill.

“Since then, I’ve been passed down from family to family particularly among the Asian coalition representatives and recently in the last year I’ve also gotten more involved with our American military stationed at MacDill,” Leavengood said.

Whether international or American an estimated 80 percent of MacDill’s military families live off base – so they’re next door neighbors and their kids go to the same schools.

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio

“We’ve become friends with them because they’re neighbors and that is also true for some of the stationed troops here as well as the officers,” Leavengood said. “The fact that anybody in our community might have relationships with any number of people at MacDill and particularly since we have so many retirees here or people who are former military, we’re all neighbors. We all live together.”

So seeing photographs of Jill Kelley with David and Holly Petraeus during a Gasparilla Parade is not a novelty to many in Tampa. The military and civilian communities are intertwined.

Former Mayor Iorio has talked with several reporters from national news organizations hoping they’ll give a more “well rounded” view of MacDill and Tampa.

“I think they kind of shorthand it all, social functions and MacDill, parties and MacDill and it just goes way beyond that,” Iorio said. “So many people have done a lot of volunteer work for MacDill and for our service men and women and that’s appreciated to me that’s really the nuts and bolts of how we operate as community.”

Iorio said Tampa and MacDill’s reputations will withstand the scandal and she expects the relationship between the city and its Air Force base to remain strong.

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An Air Force C-17 Mistakenly Lands at Civilian Airfield

Photo courtesy of Aviation News in the Raw.

An Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo plane carrying 23 passengers and19 crew made an unscheduled landing at Tampa’s general aviation airfield, Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands just south of downtown.

Video of the landing courtesy of Ryan Gucwa can be seen on the website Aviation News in the Raw.

The runway at Peter O. Knight is much shorter than most military landing strips, at only 3,400 feet, and used mostly by small private aircraft and helicopters. The runway at MacDill AFB is 14,000 feet long by comparison.

The military aircraft’s planned destination was MacDill Air Force Base, about four miles south at the end of Tampa’s peninsula.

A press release from the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Wing Command at Scott Air Base in Illinois states:

The aircraft, flying in support of U.S. Central Command, was apparently undamaged and there were no injuries. There appears to be no damage to the airfield.

The civilian airfield officials and the Air Force are working together to move the C-17 Globemaster so that Peter O. Knight airport to re-open.

The Air Mobility Win Command is investigating the incident.

MacDill Air Force Base Memorial Day Ceremony

Units from the MacDill 6th Air Mobility Wing, Central Command, Special Operations Command and the Joint Communications Support Element come to attention during the morning ceremony.

The wail of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.” The sharp crack of three rifle volleys being fired. The playing of “Taps.”  All the traditional Memorial Days moments were present at the MacDill Air Force Base Memorial Day ceremony.

Also there in full dress uniform: units from Special Operations Command, Central Command, the Joint Communications Support Element and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

Military families and dozens of civilians, invited by MacDill Air Force Base Commander Col. Lenny Richoux, sat on folding chairs under the morning sun.

Memorial Day 2012 wreath at MacDill Air Force Base Air Park.

Richoux said Memorial Day is equally important to respects to the fallen but also remember their families.

“We want them to know that their loved one’s service was for the right causes and the right reasons,” Richoux said after the 30 minute ceremony. “We thank them and we remember them and we stand with them as they continue to grieve the losses of their loved ones.” Continue reading

Veteran Rex Temple Still Dealing with Afghanistan Tour

SMSgt. Rex Temple shortly after his return from a year in Afghanistan in April 2010.

On this Veterans Day, I catch up with Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple. We first met in May 2009 just days before he deployed to Afghanistan. Rex had started a blog, Afghanistan: My Last Tour, and agreed to  include a weekly radio series for WUSF 89.7FM, the National Public Radio affiliate for the Tampa Bay region.

Temple used Skype and morale phones to communicate and he never missed a week, unless he was on a mission. He took listeners inside makeshift Afghan schools, along the winding, mountainous roads and through congested intersections in Kabul. He introduced us to Afghan Army officers, women and men, and to members of his team.

Temple returned in April 2010 after his year-long deployment with an Embedded Training Team and retired June 1, 2011 after 28 years of military service.

But, as he told me during a radio interview earlier this week, he’s still dealing with incidents and images from Afghanistan.

REX TEMPLE: There were some things that we didn’t talk about on the radio, things that I didn’t write about. Things that I saw that at the time – it didn’t bother me then but when I came back. At night, I did, I had some nightmares. I had some of these flashbacks, but I reached out and I got help and I’ve been going through therapy now for a year for some of those things.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: You’re finding you’re not alone there aren’t you?

TEMPLE: I think the hardest thing was to admit, okay, there’s a problem here, that this isn’t right, but there was also a fear of reaching out and asking for help.

Continue reading

Airfest 2011 this Weekend at Tampa’s MacDill Air Base

The USAF Thunderbirds. Photo courtesy of the Air Force website.

The USAF Thunderbirds. Photo courtesy of the Air Force website.

The KC-135 Stratotanker is an everyday sight at Macdill Air Force Base, home to the 6th Air Mobility Wing. But, this weekend the C-135s will have company. The skies over Tampa will be filled with demonstration flights by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a B-25 Mitchell Bomber and a P-51 Mustang among other aircraft.

It’s the annual MacDill AirFest is Saturday and Sunday. The gates at Dale Mabry Boulevard and MacDill Avenue open at 8 a.m. to the public with opening ceremonies planned at 9 a.m. both days. Once the spectator parking is full, the gates will close however and the base will only be accessible for the general public by foot or on public transportation.

There’s also a schedule of events. Some highlights:

  • The Thunderbirds perform both days at 2:30 p.m. both days
  • A U.S. Special Operations Command Jump at 9:05 a.m. and Parachute Team Demo at 2 p.m. both days
  • A KC-135 Stratotanker fly-over at 10:20 a.m.

Be sure to check the Frequently Asked Questions page for a list of suggested items to bring and what not to bring.

A Military Mom: Don’t Take the Small Things for Granted

Here’s a second contribution from Momma B – also known as Elaine Brye. She has four children and writes a blog: 4 star military mom. All are serving in the military – one in each branch – Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Elaine Brye's four children who are rarely home at the same time.

BY ELAINE BRYE

As a military mom it is not only the big things that get to you-it can be the every day things that most take for granted. For example getting all four of mine in one place at the same time is quite a challenge. As I sit on our hilltop farm and look out on a holiday I can see clusters of families gathering together-not my kids. I may be lucky to get a double or a triple but very seldom do I get a home run of everyone together.

It’s funny – when they were home all the time –  I think they got the basics of hand-to-hand combat completed in my living room. I would head to town and war would break out. The battles raged, casualties abounded including lampshades and then the phone would ring. ” Kids, I am on the way home, anything else we need?”

Immediately they sprang into action just like Thing1 and Thing 2 (out of Dr. Seuss) – in this case – also Thing 3 and Thing 4 – and all worked together to put things back in order.  A few days later I might ask, “What happened to this lamp shade? ” to be met by silence. Of course all of this has only recently been disclosed now that the statute of limitations has run out.

They work hard to see each other when they can, but that little thing of normal life together is a thing of the past.

When they were home, I knew their friends,their comings and goings, and supported them in their activities. I sat on so many bleachers  that I developed bleacher bottom – an increase in girth directly attributed to hours sitting in the car or the bleachers.

Now, the questions remain unanswered – what did you do at work today, where are you, when will you be home? OPSEC (Operational Security) reigns supreme and I find myself reading the news to figure out if my kid might be there. The not knowing – and being less a part of their lives because of it – those are little things I took for granted in years gone by.

Momma B's first grandchild.

I have to say the one thing that really has upped the ante when I think of the little things is my grandchildren. During my sons’ first deployments they were newlyweds. Their wives stepped it up and bravely held down the home front. They dealt with all the things that can go wrong.

As it says in Mrs. Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will happen when he is out of town-or on deployment.

But this time around – well – it is different. There is a little girl left behind. Six months old when Daddy left and she will be a year old when he comes home. The first tooth, the first steps – no amount of technology can replace missing those milestones. When we talk about personal sacrifice,  it can be the little things that mean so much.

A Report from Afghanistan: Reconstruction Continues

On the right is Lt. Mark Graff, also known as Backcounry. He's sporting a deployment mustache which he reports lasted about 8 days.

Their nicknames are Backcountry and Slick. They are the public information officers newly assigned to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Western Afghanistan.

I talked with “Backcountry” today. He’s deployed Air Force Lt. Mark Graff, formerly stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida. Graff loves to hunt and fish in his native Illinois woods – thus his nickname given by a U.S. State Department representative in his blog Afghan Plan. “Slick” is Graff’s counter part, a Navy officer and from Texas.

Graff’s team is taking over missions started by others such as road building, clinic reconstruction and medical missions to outlying villages. He’s been out on a couple of medical missions. The team has been in country five to six weeks and Graff has yet to see rain or much green for that matter.

Lt. Graff captured this photo while out on a mission - supplies being delivered via airdrops to a combat outpost.

We chatted via Skype. I will produce a radio story giving folks in the Tampa Bay area an update on a familiar voice and face – Graff handled the local news media for the 6th Air Mobility Wing while stationed at MacDill AFB).

We had a good talk. But, unlike my yearlong series with SMSgt. Rex Temple, now retired, our chats will not be weekly nor will we try to recreate what Temple brought to WUSF listeners in our series My Last Tour. That series was a culmination of Temple’s 10 overseas deployments where he brought insights from a long and distinguished career in the Air Force.

This is Graff’s first deployment and he’s just beginning his military career only a couple of years out of university.

But with so many military personnel and civilian members in Afghanistan and so much treasure spent in lives and resources, it’s important to have a perspective from someone on the ground there. Graff agreed to check in on occasion.

There’s also a reality of Afghanistan, people are still being killed. Afghans are blown-up or beheaded by the Taliban if they appear to cooperate with U.S. and International Forces. And, there’s the growing list of Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Seamen who have lost their lives.

As Rex reminded me more than once, “Bobbie – it’s a war… You’ve just got to suck it up.”

That was brought home tonight when I read an email from the Military Families Ministry – co-founded by Off the Base contributor Tracie Ciambotti – which posted the following video.

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