By: Julia Ruddock
220720RMAR17: Early morning haze, a stillness in the air, and the hum of engines and feet pitter-pattering in cadence off into the near distance. It was an all too familiar o’dark:30 start to Military Day for the Leadership Tampa Class of 2017 (GOAT), sponsored by Bank of America. Overlooking the Tampa city skyline from the southwest sits MacDill Air Force Base, a strategic gem to the US military and the Tampa Bay Community. To get a sense of appreciation of the value-add of this base, I share a few quick facts (FY14):
- Employs and supports over 42,000 military and civilian personnel and their dependents (including coalition partners)
- $2.94 Billion in economic impact to the region
- Nearly 25,000 jobs created
- Home to the headquarters of two combatant commands: US Central Command (USCENTCOM) and US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)
Upon our arrival, we were greeted on the bus by a loud and thunderous Major Brian Craft, Chief of the 927th Air Refueling Wing’s Command Post. To the envy of all Veterans in our group who were not in the Air Force, we entered the unit’s common area that was squared away with a full continental breakfast and fresh coffee, courtesy of a very welcoming Lieutenant Colonel John Schwartz of the 927th Operations Group. While enjoying breakfast, we had the lovely pleasure of meeting Edward Spenceley, former Army and Senior Vice President at Bank of America, whose opening remarks centered on a very important theme that resonated with all of us: that Military Day was all about perspective. At this point, with nostalgia digging a foxhole into my brain for the remainder of the day, I knew we were in for a right ‘ole treat.
“The Flying Jennies”
Our first stop was a static display of the KC-135 Stratotanker provided by the airmen and operators of the 63rd Air Refueling Squadron. For a living, the Flying Jennies conduct aerial refueling missions as the reserve component of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the host unit of MacDill AFB. Commissioned into service in 1963, we learned that our plane carries over 30,000 gallons of fuel and has at least 40 more years left before it is retired. Used extensively throughout the Vietnam War and recent conflicts such as
Operation Desert Storm, the pilots and notorious “boom operators” of the 63D and many other similar units apply resolute focus and precision to extend the range and endurance of US tactical fighter jets and bombers in conflict. Spending my latter high school years in Okinawa where F-15s like the one pictured above roared every 15 minutes across the skies, I knew airmen like the Flying Jennies did a dangerous job. Just how dangerous, though, was a piece of knowledge not wasted on any of our LT’17 classmates that morning.
“C-130 Rolling Down the Strip…Mission Top Secret, Destination Unknown”
After departing the Hangar, we proceeded to the Davis Conference Center for our commander’s mission briefs. Delivering our welcome brief was C
olonel April Vogel, Commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing. The first thing that came to my mind as she spoke was, “I finally get to meet a pilot who flew the C-130s I used to jump out of!”
Col. Vogel opened the brief with a comprehensive overview of MacDill, its mission to provide support to combatant commanders in their mission accomplishment, and the history of her career coming up through the ranks from an airman to an officer who has commanded at all levels. What was most interesting to our class was Col. Vogel’s take on leadership and her role as Commander of a base that serves both a local and worldwide mission. The main takeaways of our discussion were:
- As the youngest of the armed forces, the Air Force has over 317,000 active duty airmen, over 69,000 reservists and 30,000 in the National Guard.
- MacDill hosts 52 coalition nations on base supporting co-commands’ global missions.
- The commander’s role is as much about aiding understanding between the base and the Tampa Bay community as it is about providing her airmen the space they need to grow and excel at their jobs.
- The Air Force’s focus is on building leaders that know a little bit about all of its components, encouraging a broad area of expertise and relying on others to keep them on their toes.
- She internalizes the “Servant Leader” philosophy in that she doesn’t see herself as an expert in the role of commander. Instead, she exercises command through a network of influence built on trust in her people, encouraging others to learn from their mistakes, and consistently impressing upon her airmen the strategic importance of the work they do.
Asked by the group how Tampa can support the base community, Col. Vogel ended her brief with the following:
- Help in finding homes [work] for Veterans in the community after service.
- More engagement of the external community on the base i.e. being supporting of and welcoming to service members and MacDill’s mission
Colonel Frank Amodeo, Commander of the 927th Air Refueling Wing, delivered our second mission brief. As commander of the combined reserve and civilian component consisting of nearly 1,000 personnel, Col. Amodeo oversees the aforementioned Flying Jennies, cargo and passenger airlift, aeromedical evacuation and other “enterprise” support functions of the base including logistics, maintenance, force protection as well as humanitarian missions. While Col. Vogel’s brief was largely representative of the active duty component of MacDill, Col. Amodeo shared some very interesting facts that (to me) hit the nail on the head of what the day was all about:
- 70% of the recruitable US population is not eligible to join military service.
- While the active component of airmen under his command (15%) spends on average 2-3 years at MacDill, the majority (85%) are reservists who come from our community with regular jobs like you and I.
- In addition to their day-to-day, the focus of these 850+ reservists is mostly on transferable skills training they may leverage in their civilian careers.
Asked what his biggest leadership challenges are, Col. Amodeo responded:
- Finding funds to provide professional development opportunities for service members to keep up their skill set to meet the needs of the future Military.
- Taking a 27-year-old plane to a modern-day race and winning, adding that our service members face this challenge every day as they serve multiple rotations in the nation’s longest war
Talk about Perspective!
In closing, Col. Amodeo ended his brief with an ask of the group: to support and encourage the support of reservists doing their best to balance their commitment to service to our nation and their civilian employers.
“There are some units we just don’t talk about,”
said Mr. Ken McGraw, Deputy Public Affairs Officer of US Special Operations Command Headquarters, in response to one of our classmate’s questions on the role of Delta force in the US military. Mr. McGraw delivered this classic response at the end of his SOCOM 101 Brief, during which we gained an in-depth understanding of the unit’s mission, scope of operations and composition. With brute force strength of at least 70,000 of the nation’s elite forces across all branches of the military, USSOCOM serves global responsibilities and interests under the direction of both Congress and the Department of Defense. As the owner of the strategy and execution for countering trans-regional terrorist threat and weapons of mass destruction, we learned that SOCOM’s scope of operations spans from direct action operations (unconventional warfare) to community partnerships (foreign humanitarian assistance, winning hearts and minds). Working with the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan or opening the national airport to allow international relief to flow into Haiti after the country’s January 2010 earthquake are but a couple examples of the reach of SOCOM’s impact in the global community.
Against Mr. McGraw’s historical backdrop of SOCOM came Mr. Dennis D’Angelo’s brief on US Central Command’s Area of Responsibility. As the Deputy Director of Logistics and Engineering at CENTCOM, Mr. D’Angelo painted a complex for our group of what is perhaps the most challenging of operating environments for the US military. CENTCOM’s operations span 20 countries and nearly 5 million square miles, is home to three of the world’s five major religions, and houses 530 million people comprised of 22 ethnic groups who speak 18 major languages. From its Tampa headquarters, CENTCOM provides strategic vision, plans and guidance to enable the success of subordinate commands while addressing theater-wide geopolitical and military issues. The end vision: a more stable and prosperous region that is poised to counter state and non-state actors posing a threat to US national interests.
For years, hundreds of thousands of troops from the US and over 52 coalition partners have stepped foot in the desert sands, mountains and snow of the CENTCOM AOR, most recently in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. Echoing Col. Amodeo, Mr. D’Angelo’s challenges are very similar: maintaining balance between continuity of operations and multiple troop rotations for what is now America’s longest running conflict. Mr. D’Angelo ended our time together with a charge to us that “it’s a great time to be in the military!” Indeed, as the 21st century ushers in new challenges such as cyber warfare and the effects of climate change on our capabilities, those of us who have served see some exciting opportunities on the horizon for our youth.
“Bridging the cultural gap”
While enjoying a fabulous lunch, a seemingly unassuming Mark Haskell, Middle East Culture Instructor, lit the room on fire with his vibrant personality as he delivered an introduction to our group on the Foundations of Islam. Bringing back memories of my time at West Point studying Arabic and middle east culture (knowing full well I would eventually serve in Iraq), Mr. Haskell opened this session with an introduction to the first pillar of Islam – the shahada – the profession of faith expressing the two simple, fundamental beliefs that make one a Muslim: there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.
The dichotomy between the depictions above of the shahada in the Qu’ran (the holy book of Islam) and on the Isis flag, respectively, mirrored the varying degrees of understanding among our group about Islam. At the end of our session with Mr. Haskell and with a new perspective, the answer to the question of who or what we are up against in the continuing global war on terror began to blur significantly. Applying this realization to the men and women who serve every day in countries where Islam is the predominant religion, we gained a more refined sense of appreciation of the burden of service our military and civilian counterparts bear in defense of this country.
Following this session, we enjoyed a panel discussion with SOCOM international officers from Lithuania, the Netherlands and Denmark. Each officer provided a short overview of their countries, talked about global perception of the US versus reality based on their experience, and enlightened us about the significance of their assignment to SOCOM as an ambassador of their country.
Last but not least, LT17 wrapped up Military Day with the Marine reservists of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion (4th AABn). After signing in old-fashioned military in-processing style, Captain Eric Benjamin briefed us on the composition of his unit and the significance of their mission while we rotated through 25-minute static demonstrations between their various equipment and small arms (rifles, machine guns). Throughout the demonstrations, we had the opportunity to learn more about the Marines of 4th AABn, many of whom were barely 30 years old and yet had already served 7-8 years with multiple deployments overseas.
Military Day was all about perspective and bridging the gap in understanding between our service members and our community. Learning that our military and community’s leaders are challenged by the same issues:
- Attracting good talent and providing for their continued development without risking burnout
- Ensuring our systems and infrastructure capabilities continue to enable our people’s success
- Preparing ourselves to ensure we are ready to meet the needs of the needs of the 21st century
…left some of us rather speechless. Starting at the top through Leadership Tampa and other leaders in the Tampa Bay community, we left Military Day charged with a new mission: One Tampa!
Thank you to all who made LT17’s Military Day very special.