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Guest column | Bill Riddle

MacDill Air Force Base honorary commander program fosters appreciation

Staff Sgt. Angela Ruiz stood at the side of the stage making sure the top of the presentation case was polished and the ceremonial coin inside was properly aligned. The military is known for its attention to detail. Lack of precision can be costly in battle and good habits start in basic training. The precision on this occasion was part of the Sept. 16 induction ceremony for honorary commanders at MacDill Air Force Base.

The role of honorary commander is easy compared to the job our military does 24/7. The program was the brainchild of previous base commander, Col. Lawrence Martin. It's intended to help civilians like me gain a greater understanding of the Air Force's job at MacDill and beyond. It also strengthens ties between our base and the greater Tampa community.

MacDill's Air Mobility Wing commander, Col. Lenny Richoux, is continuing the tradition started by his predecessor two years ago. Thirty-nine local community leaders are paired with wing commanders, group commanders, command chiefs, and squadron commanders to learn about the specific mission of their individual units. I've been paired with Lt. Col. Derrick Hodges, who is in charge of safety. Although my two-year volunteer commitment has just begun, I've already learned one of the details to his unit's mission. Since birds can be hazardous to aircraft, the base had to determine the perfect height of the grass surrounding the runways to discourage birds from nesting or feeding. More attention to details.

Among the activities that help honorary commanders get to know the base and its mission are aerial-refueling flights. Prior to participation in the program, I had no idea that a primary role of our local base is the Air Refueling Wing. Allowing our planes to stay airborne and swiftly respond to needs globally is the ARW's job. I was surprised to learn that our Air Force is the only one in the world with this capability.

Speed is important. On a recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, with other honorary commanders, I sat in a bus outside the Center for the Intrepid. This facility is part of the Brooke Army Medical Center and is where wounded veterans are rehabilitated. A young man dressed in shorts and T-shirt boarded our bus. He thanked us for stopping by and casually mentioned that two years ago he was paralyzed. The combination of a speedy airlift and excellent therapy at the center had resulted in his miraculous recovery. The Air Force uses speed for more than military operations. After last year's devastating earthquake in Haiti, our troops were on the ground in 48 hours providing relief.

While in Texas, I toured the USAF basic training facility at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. Here I witnessed speed and precision firsthand. Two cadets disassembled complex M16 rifles in under 30 seconds. The base record is 16.9 seconds. I also saw a dormitory with lockers of perfectly folded clothes and beds without a wrinkle. Military precision.

At the honorary commander induction ceremony, I held the unit flag with Col. Richoux. Afterward, he thanked us for being part of the program. With an initial glimpse of all the Air Force does for our country, I feel like I'm the one who should be thankful.

Bill Riddle is a writer and Realtor living in Odessa. He can be reached at

MacDill Air Force Base honorary commander program fosters appreciation 09/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2011 4:30am]
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