Looking For Future Air Force Leaders In Technology

Middleton High School JROTC cadet Lt. Col. Carlos Martinez and Coast Guard pilot Justin Neal during STEM Day at MacDill AFB.

Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base put on an impressive show of skill and threw in a bit of fun for some 1200 school students who visited the base this month to check out military careers linked to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Never before in our nation’s history have we depended more on technology and the application of technology to win – not only in the air – but in space and in cyber space,” said MacDill Commander Col. April Vogel. “You know our mission is to fly, fight and win. So, we need to create people who can do that. And there are some amazing young minds here today which is why this is so special.” Continue reading

National Air Guardsman Tapped To Lead MacDill AFB

vogel_cox_command_change_macdill_cropped

Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox, commander of the 18th Air Force, passes the 6th Air Mobility Wing guidon to the incoming commander, Col. April Vogel, during the wing change of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 8, 2016.
Tech. Sgt. Krystie Martinez / U.S. Air Force

Commanding an Air Force Wing – like the 6th Air Mobility Wing in Tampa – is challenging enough.  Add to that being accountable for the security and daily operations of a high profile military base that is headquarters for U.S. Central Command, and those responsibilities grow “huge.”

That’s why the Air Force selected Col. April Vogel to take command at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa. Continue reading

MacDill Military Gives President Rousing Welcome

President Obama speaking to 1,200 service members at MacDill Air Force Base, Sept. 17, 2014. Photo credit: USMC Sgt. Frederick Coleman, US Central Command.

President Obama speaking to 1,200 service members at MacDill Air Force Base, Sept. 17, 2014. Photo credit: USMC Sgt. Frederick Coleman, US Central Command.

The pride of “wearing the uniform” was clear and present inside the MacDill Air Force Base sports center Wednesday where 1,200 service members from all branches crowded together to hear President Barack Obama.

Most were dressed in the everyday, camo uniform. They greeted the president with an enthusiasm that belied the rainy, gray skies outside.

President Obama talked directly to the men and women. He said he came to thank them for their sacrifice and for their commitment to the country.

Air Force Tech Sgt. Tanika Belfield appreciated the personal message in his speech.

Tech Sgt. Tanika Belfield liked the personal nature of the president's speech.

Tech Sgt. Tanika Belfield liked the personal nature of the president’s speech.

“The thing that stood out to me most is him making sure to speak of those who were wounded and that he knows that he’s in a room of people who have lost friends,” Belfield said.

The president told the troops he would not send them back to Iraq, but Belfield said she’s ready to go if called to Iraq.

“That has to remain fluid as the threats change and intel changes,” Belfield said. “We’re briefed and we’re prepared and we’re ready.”

Captain Darrell Rievs has served in the Air Force 26 years and has been deployed countless times throughout the U.S. In all that time, this was the first time he’d been in the same room with the president.

Air Force Capt. Darrell Rievs has served 26 years and been deployed numerous times, yet is ready to go again if needed.

Air Force Capt. Darrell Rievs has served 26 years and been deployed numerous times, yet is ready to go again if needed.

“It’s a great honor and very encouraging to the troops that he stopped by,” Rievs said.

He was pleased to hear the president refer to the military’s upcoming role in the fight against Ebola in Africa. And Rievs said he is willing to deploy again if needed.

“It’s just an honor to wear the uniform. If duty calls, I’m there,” Rievs said.

After meeting with the troops, President Obama visited Tinker Elementary School on base. He chatted with first graders and one asked if he fought in the Civil War.

“No, I was born in 1961.”

President Obama speaking to first graders at Tinker Elementary School on MacDill AFB. Photo credit: pool

President Obama speaking to first graders at Tinker Elementary School on MacDill AFB. Photo credit: pool

In Ms. Slagal’s class, the president shook hands with every student and admired the spikey haircut of one boy.

A little boy raised his hand and then, when the president called on him, couldn’t remember what he was going to say.

“That happens to me all the time,” President Obama said. “I think I have a good point, and then…. the press makes fun of me.”

The president spent the morning touring U.S. Central Command and discussing strategy with CENTCOM Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin and his staff. They are responsible for 20 countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia including Iraq and Syria where the Islamic State group has seized territories.

The U.S. House has passed legislation allowing the president to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamic State militants. But some Democrats are concerned that the strategy will backfire. But even without the support of dozens of Democrats, the proposal won House approval Wednesday. The Senate is expected to approve it Thursday.

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.

 

Marine Commandant: We sanctified the ground in Iraq

The new MARCENT commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie just after the change of command ceremony, Hangar One, MacDill Air Force Base.

The new MARCENT commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie just after the change of command ceremony, Hangar One, MacDill Air Force Base.

Top U.S. military leaders responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq were in Tampa today for a change of command ceremony.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie took over as commander of the Marines Forces U.S. Central Command (MARCENT) which means he now is responsible for all the Marines serving in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Presiding over the ceremony, held inside Hangar One at MacDill Air Force Base, was Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos who praised the success of the recent elections in Afghanistan.

The front row of dignitaries at the MARCENT change of command included US Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

The front row of dignitaries at the MARCENT change of command included US Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

“We’ve got every reason to feel good about what’s been accomplished in that country and it was the same way in Iraq,” Amos told the audience of more than 300, mostly military personnel. “Iraq is going to play out however it’s going to play out. But we as nations, we as the coalition and the joint forces, sanctified the ground. We sanctified the ground in Iraq.”

Amos said in his opinion that the joint forces also have sanctified the ground in Afghanistan.

Both Gen. Amos and new CENTCOM Marine Commander Lt. Gen. McKenzie declined to give specifics about Iraq and the recent surge of fighting by Islamic militants.

But McKenzie who is now responsible for about 6,000 Marines serving in the CENTCOM “Area of Responsibility” offered a perspective through the lens of the Afghan elections.

Silhouettes of Marines awaiting the ceremony frame the aircraft that brought top military leaders to the ceremony in Tampa, FL.

Silhouettes of Marines awaiting the ceremony frame the aircraft that brought top military leaders to the ceremony in Tampa, FL.

“What you see in Afghanistan is you’re seeing the Afghan National Security Force actually being able to stand up to the Taliban. A lot of people a year ago didn’t think it was going to happen,” McKenzie said.”There may be some lessons there that we can apply in Iraq. Don’t know. Two different countries, two vastly different problem sets.”

As commander of MARCENT, McKenzie will work for CENTCOM Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III. It’s similar to 10 years ago when McKenzie was led the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in southern Afghanistan in 2004 and Austin was his commander.

A KC-135 Flight Through the Eyes of a Military Wife

By Jasmine Thomas

MacDill Air Force Base is hosting its annual AirFest show this Saturday and Sunday. As a preview for the event, members of the media were invited to a ride-along flight on a KC-135 Stratotanker as it completed a training refueling mission.

I boarded the massive plane as both a reporter and Air Force wife whose husband is training to become an aviator. I hoped the Airfest “preview flight” would give me a hint as to what my husband will be doing one day.

A glimpse inside the cockpit of the KC-135 Stratotanker flown by the MacDill Air Force Base 6th Air Mobility Wing.

A glimpse inside the cockpit of the KC-135 Stratotanker with co-pilot Capt. Joseph Brzozowske with the MacDill Air Force Base 6th Air Mobility Wing.

I stepped into the dark cylindrical-shaped cabin area. The walls of the plane were lined with benches where the news media would be sitting. Three small windows dotted each wall while a loud constant humming filled the cabin. Military aircraft clearly weren’t designed with comfort in mind.

“We’re not an airline. So, it’s not gonna be as smooth as you’re probably used to. So, I apologize for any bumps, but I’ll do what I can. But really when it comes down to it, it’s getting the mission done today,” said Capt. Matt Swee, the KC-135 pilot.

His warning about takeoff makes me a little nervous. I don’t fly often, so, I tend to be uneasy when it comes to that.

I sat in the cockpit right behind Swee and his co-pilot Capt. Joseph Brzozowske. Before takeoff I ask, “How long have you guys been flying together?” Their response?

It was their first time. That made me a little anxious. But as Swee explained.

“That’s extremely common. We don’t have hard crews. We’re all trained exactly the same. And so you could show up and fly with someone you’ve never flown before, and everyone does it exactly the same way. And that’s intentional, standardization,” Swee said.

Okay, that made me feel much better. I’m well aware of how the Air Force likes to keep things standardized, so to see it being put to use in the cockpit was definitely comforting.

Soon after, the pilots taxied us to the runway. The sky was dark and cloudy as it rained, making my stomach churn with anxiety. I thought, ‘not exactly favorable weather we’re about to takeoff into.’

Despite this, the two captains positioned us for take-off, rapidly gaining speed before we were finally airborne into a sea of thick clouds and rain.

A look at the A-10 Warthog refueling from the boom operator's point of view.

A look at the A-10 Warthog refueling from the boom operator’s point of view.

Even though it was their first time flying together, Swee was right. He and Brzozowske seemed to be in sync as they flipped switches and adjusted other instruments.

We finally broke free from the turbulence of takeoff and leveled off into a serene blue sky.

Wow. The view from the cockpit was breathtaking. And to think, this is what my husband will get to see and do as part of his job.

At this point, it was safe to unbuckle myself from the jump-seat and walk into the cabin.

This wasn’t so bad after all. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stand and walk around without falling over. And it suddenly got really chilly. I realize, a little too late, I should’ve brought a thicker jacket as we soar above 30,000 feet.

Before long, I got over the temperature drop when I saw a fleet of A-10 Warthogs approach. Cameras in hand, I and more than a dozen journalists lined up to snap photos and record video.

I finally got my chance to see them. Four Warthogs lined up side by side, seeming to hover in the air next to us. They were so close I could see the pilots clearly from my window. And the aircraft’s signature artwork on the side, the eyes and grinning mouth full of teeth, was just too cool, reminiscent of World War II fighters.

A-10 Warthog as seen from the cabin of the KC-135 Stratotanker.

A-10 Warthog as seen from the cabin of the KC-135 Stratotanker.

What was even cooler was having the chance to lie on my stomach next to the boom operator, Master Sgt. Nancy Primm. One by one, each jet approached us from underneath and aligned themselves just perfectly. Primm already had the boom extended as she worked to align it with the jet before finally making the connection.

That’s no easy task, but Primm knows how to calm nervous receiver pilots.

“Whenever I have a receiver come up, and you can tell they’re nervous, you can hear the pitch in their voice, and they let the jet fly them a little bit, I put on what I call my librarian voice,” Primm said. “And that is ‘Mac four, left right’, you know whatever I have to do because the more calm I can project to him or her who’s flying, that tends to work.”

Swee explained the danger of refueling in-flight, but said they have to do whatever it takes to get the mission done. Training flights like this one prepare pilots for refueling during combat and other missions.

“The aircraft is actually closer than you’d expect, 10-13 feet actually. And it’s going to be moving around a lot more than one might think. And we can feel every single movement that’s made in the back, we can feel that up front,” Swee said. “It turns the entire aircraft. So we’re constantly compensating for every movement that the receiver pilot makes, and every movement that the boom operator makes with the boom as she’s flying that around too.”

Admission to the air show is free and open to the public. The KC-135 and A-10 are only two of the aircrafts that will be on display.

Personally, I can now be easy having a much better idea of what my husband will be doing and what our Air Force is capable of. This is one experience I won’t soon forget.

You can listen to Jasmine Thomas’ report on WUSF News.

Joint Special Operations: A University of Their Own

U.S. Special Operations Command Deputy Commander, Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, served as keynote speaker at the symbolic groundbreaking for the new university campus. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

U.S. Special Operations Command Deputy Commander, Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, served as keynote speaker at the symbolic groundbreaking for the new university campus.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

The Tampa Bay area will soon become home to a new university. It is not another state university like Florida Polytechnic. Instead, the university has a highly-specialized curriculum with a global reach.

A hub campus for the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) is under construction near the U.S. Special Operations Command on MacDill Air Force Base.

There was a symbolic groundbreaking Thursday, but the JSOU has been holding classes for the past three years in a former bank building just outside the Tampa air base. The school is working on accreditation, but is not yet a degree-granting university.

Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, said the curriculum is at the core of the Department of Defense’s plan to use more teams of special operators.

 Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, says their new facility withstood budget cuts because Dept. of Defense plans to use more special ops forces in the future. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media


Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, says their new facility withstood budget cuts because Dept. of Defense plans to use more special ops forces in the future.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

“The secretary of defense just the other day said, ‘Hey as we’re cutting back some of the forces, we’re going to see the special operator on the battlefield,’” Maher said. “And they’re going to be in small teams and they’re going to be needed to have the skills and that intellectual capacity to talk back to chiefs of staff of services and ministries of defense and be able to help formulate and articulate what the United States is trying to do.”

The JSOC was created to train special operations forces in 2000, a year before the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But what started as training courses and workshops has developed into an educational institution.

Now, it serves special forces and conventional forces as well as interagency and international partners.

“We want to take the niche, and it will be primarily for the non-commissioned officers,” Maher said. “Help them get a higher level education, but in the things that are going to be meaningful for the rest of their career – critical thinking skills, solving complex problems.”

(From left to right) Command Sgt. Maj. David Betz, JSOU senior enlisted advisor; Dr. Brian Maher, JSOU president; Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa; retired Army Gen. Doug Brown, former USSOCOM commander; Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, USSOCOM deputy commander; Retired Vice Adm. Joe Maguire, former commander of Naval Special Warfare Command; Air Force Col. Andre Briere, 6th Air Mobility Wing vice commander; and Army Lt. Col. Thomas Nelson, Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District deputy commander break ground for the Joint Special Operations University scheduled to be completed in the Fall of 2015.

(From left to right) Command Sgt. Maj. David Betz, JSOU senior enlisted advisor; Dr. Brian Maher, JSOU president; Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa; retired Army Gen. Doug Brown, former USSOCOM commander; Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, USSOCOM deputy commander; Retired Vice Adm. Joe Maguire, former
commander of Naval Special Warfare Command; Air Force Col. Andre Briere, 6th
Air Mobility Wing vice commander; and Army Lt. Col. Thomas Nelson, Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District deputy commander break ground for the Joint Special Operations University scheduled to be completed in the Fall of 2015.

Maher said a majority of the special operators’ work is building security cooperation and partnerships with other government agencies and nations and that only 5 to 10 percent of special forces’ work is “direct action.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB.

“It’s something that we call phase zero or before the bang,” Maher said. “We don’t ever want to get to where there’s an armed conflict.”

Instead, the aim is to provide training and work with partner nations to solve local problems before they grow into regional conflicts.

The university facility is being built as an extension of the U.S. Special Operations Command where Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland is deputy commander.

“Nowhere in the world, literally, will you find such an academic institution dedicated to the professional study and practice of special operations,” Mulholland said at the symbolic groundbreaking. “This building will support JSOU evolving into a fully-accredited, nationally-recognized degree granting university. Providing a variety of academic programs and electives specifically designed for special operators.”

The new 90,000 square-foot JSOU facility is scheduled to be completed in 2015 and become home to 130 faculty and staff.

You can listen to the radio version of this story which aired on WUSF 89.7 FM.

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