Watch an Air Force Tradition: A Final Flight Drenching

A salute to Col. Scott DeThomas as he brings the KC-135 Stratotanker to a stop on his final flight as an Air Force pilot.

A salute to Col. Scott DeThomas as he brings the KC-135 Stratotanker to a stop on his final flight as an Air Force pilot.

Someday I’ll know what it’s like to leave behind a profession that I’m passionate about and have invested much of my life to. That’s what Col. Scott DeThomas is preparing to do as commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and MacDill Air Force Base.

After 32 years in the military, 23 of them as an Air Force pilot, DeThomas is retiring.

He was at the controls of a KC-135 Stratotanker, an aging refueling tanker, for his final flight which DeThomas said was appropriate.

It’s a bittersweet moment one last time in the pilot’s seat, DeThomas called it “surreal.”

But there were plenty of friends, family and staff to help him through it along with the time-honored tradition of drenching a pilot after the final flight.

The drenching started with two fire trucks as DeThomas taxied the tanker to it’s final resting spot.

DeThomas is scheduled to retire in August. He and his family, wife Marta, son Brad,17, and dautghter Anna, 8, plan to remain in the Tampa Bay community.

 

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Florida’s Military Community Prepares for Sequestration

KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to MacDill Air Force Base prepare for launch as part of an "Elephant Walk” on Jan. 20 2012. Personnel from MacDill's total force integration, 6th Air Mobility Wing and 927th Air Reserve Wing, executed the mission and launched eight aircraft as part of the event. "Elephant walk" is a historic, uniquely Air Force term that describes the nose-to-tail, single-file taxi movements of the aircraft synonymous with the nose-to-tail trail of lumbering elephants. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa V. Paradise)

KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to MacDill Air Force Base prepare for launch as part of an “Elephant Walk” on Jan. 20 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa V. Paradise)

Today is Sequestration Day – the day that Congress’ mandatory budget cuts kick into gear a minute before midnight.  If that happens, it will take weeks even months before the true impact is felt.

Florida’s Defense Industries and Military Bases

Gov. Rick Scott is certain of one thing – the mandatory budget cuts will severely hurt Florida’s defense industry which he says contributes more than $73 billion and 754,000 jobs to the state economy.

And Scott is worried about the military bases and installations especially parts of the Panhandle, where 35 percent of the economy is linked to the military.

“It’s going to hurt us. We’re a big military state,” Scott said Wednesday during a visit to Lakeland.”We’re the most military friendly state. We’ve got 20 military bases, three unified commands. They’ve got to do the right thing up there.”

The governor wrote a letter earlier this week to President Obama stating that sequestration will mean “dramatic reductions to our National Guard which threatens our ability to respond to wildfires this spring and hurricanes this summer.”

Scott called the budget situation “disappointing” adding that Washington must balance its budget and prioritize needs like states have to.

Prioritizing Cuts at MacDill Air Force Base

MacDill Commander Col. Scott DeThomas said some smaller facility projects could be delayed. But the bigger impact would hit his employees. As base commander, DeThomas supervises about a third of the 3,000 civilian workers at on base. Many of those civilians face furloughs beginning in late April that would equate to a 20 percent pay cut.

“So, it’s going to be a dramatic impact on the base how we do business to lose basically 20 percent of the force,” DeThomas said. “The third big piece that’s going to be a great impact is on the mission.”

DeThomas is receiving guidance from his commanders on where to reduce costs.

Col.  Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

As commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, what concerns DeThomas most is a 20 percent cut in flying of the refueling  tankers and Gulf Stream jets.

“What you’ll probably see is maybe some men, currency items, instead of being very proficient, you might be minimally qualified to fly the plane,” DeThomas said. “Depending on how we institute the cuts, you might see us take people off being current altogether and just sit them for a short period of time in hopes that once we get through the end of the year we’ll get back to flying normal.”

He is concerned the cut in flying will decrease airman readiness from boom operators to pilots.

“When the call comes, I may or may not be able to answer the call with the right amount or the right flavor because of the fact that we’ve allowed the training to slip,” DeThomas said.

The commander is also is preparing his military families for the stress that comes with budget cuts. A family resiliency training session is scheduled for families throughout the wing.

“We’ll bring families out, we’ll introduce some of the tools that will prepare them mentally, physically, socially  and economically for being able to handle the burdens that may come with sequestration.”

Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, and Dr. Larry Braue, director of Student Veteran Services at USF.

Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, and Dr. Larry Braue, director of Student Veteran Services at USF.

Florida’s Veteran Population

Veterans are another segment of Florida’s military community. Reportedly, their benefits are not a part of the automatic cuts. However, Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, is skeptical.

“You wonder are there administrative cuts? There has been a bit of gray area on what could be cut in the VA,” Dakduk said during his visit Thursday to the University of South Florida SVA chapter.

Dakduk is specifically worried about the Transition Assistance Program, called TAP. It helps active duty military transition into civilian life.

“When we talk about TAP that’s an interagency program, so a different agency is affected by that,” Dakduk said. “It will affect the program.”

That would mean less opportunity for veterans seeking help with education, entrepreneurship and technical training as they leave the military.

MacDill Facing Cuts in People, Flight-Time and Facilities

Col.  Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

The home to U-S Central Command, U-S Special Operations Command and the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, is readying for mandatory civilian furloughs, reduced flight time and postponed building projects.

If sequestration – Congress’ mandatory budget cuts – goes into effect Friday, no state or facility will escape the shockwave.

Most of the 3,000 civilian workers at MacDill Air Force Base will essentially take a 20 percent cut in pay. Sequestration mandates that they take a weekly, one-day furlough beginning in late April through September.

Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill and the 6th Air Mobility Wing, employs about 1,000 of those civilians at MacDill.

“The sense of urgency goes up March 1st since the fiscal year is half over,” DeThomas said. “A 10 percent cut over a 12 month period is not so bad, but when you do it in a short time like we’re about to face it has a much more dramatic impact.”

In addition to civilian furloughs, more than $6 million in maintenance and construction projects on base will be postponed and flying hours for the 16 KC-135 refueling tankers and three Gulf Stream jets will be cut 20 percent.

DeThomas was even more certain about the fate of MacDill’s Air Fest scheduled the weekend of April 6th and 7th.

“The Air Fest is pretty close to being canceled. We’re not officially there yet, but actually very close,” DeThomas said late Friday. “The money that we’ve committed already was minimal up to this point. Our next big outlay of funds would be March 5th.”

But prior to that date, DeThomas anticipates the Air Force will cancel all upcoming air shows as part of it’s mandate to cut $20 billion by the end of the current fiscal year.

MacDill AFB: A Community Bids Farewell to Col. Richoux

A billboard in Brandon, FL.

Col. Lenny Richoux was certainly a popular commander when running Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. He started a friends of MacDill program to encourage civilian members of the community to visit the base and get to know its work and people.

Richoux also worked to expand services to military families, about 80 percent of them, living off base in communities such as Brandon. So, it’s no wonder that this billboard appeared in Brandon.

I don’t know who sponsored the billboard, but you hope Richoux and his family have a chance to see it before flying off to Belgium, their new post.

And a welcome to Col. Scott DeThomas, a friend of Richoux’s, and the new MacDill AFB commander and leader of the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

MacDill Air Force Base Changes Commanders

Col. Lenny Richoux is reassigned from Tampa’s MacDill AFB to Belgium and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

Every two years MacDill Air Force Base gets a new commander. Col. Lenny Richoux will hand over control of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Friday at 9 a.m. in a Change of Command Ceremony.

Richoux said he’s leaving MacDill and the 2600 airmen of the 6th Air Mobility Wind in good hands. He knows his successor well, Col. Scott DeThomas.

“Scott (DeThomas) and I go way back as captains flying the C-17 at Charleston Air Force Base,” Richoux said during an interview in May. “Ironically, this is the second time that he and I have shared command of the same organization.”

The first time, Richoux turned over command of the 17th Air Lift Squadron at Charles ton to DeThomas in 2007.

DeThomas comes to Tampa from Kuwait where he was Commander, 387th Air Expeditionary Group leading 700 airmen in support of Coalition forces and civilian contractors in support of U.S. Central Command Operations.

Now, DeThomas will command the base that is home to CENTCOM as well as Special Operations Command among other commands.

Richoux said they have similar command styles.

“We’re cut from the same bolt of fabric,” Richoux said. “We’re both air mobility airmen. He has a similar flying background as me. Our families are close. And we’ve had a number of assignments together.

Richoux and his family are headed to Belgium where he will serve as the Senior Special assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander at the European Command.

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