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Howard Altman: Choice of MacDill base commander shows commitment to integrate reserves

Air Force Col. April Vogel
Air Force Col. April Vogel
Published Aug. 28, 2017

Given the constant state of warfare the U.S. Air Force faces, with 25 years flying regular combat patrols in the Middle East, the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve haven't functioned as true reserve forces for some time.

Instead, they're part of the operational mission of the flying branch.

A move to more closely integrate active duty and reserve components was behind the appointment of Air Force Col. April Vogel as the first Air National Guard base commander at MacDill Air Force Base. She took over last summer.

"Senior leaders in the Air Force recognized the need to ensure folks in leadership positions understood all components, active duty and reserve," said Vogel, who leads the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the base host unit. "We can't do the mission without each other."

She was somewhat surprised by the appointment.

"It was an honor, but one thing I can take away from it is that when I showed up at MacDill, nobody ever seemed to notice. The airmen are looking for direction and leadership. It's never been a thing."

Her tenure so far has been free of the nutty news emerging in recent years from MacDill — no giant cargo planes missing their marks and landing at tiny Peter O. Knight airport, no homeless people trying to sneak in using a trash can. So we had a chance to sit down and consider some questions.

Vogel said she constantly thinks about the folks from the base deployed around the world, including those at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, subject of recent attack threats by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"It's certainly on everybody's mind," she said. "Especially at my level. I have to make sure my folks are prepared to operate wherever we are called."

Vogel commands her wing at a time when eight additional KC-135 aerial refueling tankers are headed to MacDill, starting as early as October. She said about 50 to 75 of the expected 300 or so new airmen associated with those planes are already on base.

The additional jets will bring to 24 the number assigned to MacDill. The base has lost out on two rounds of assignments of the KC-135 replacement — new KC-46 Pegasus jets. The base also lost the chance to house another 12 KC-135s, which look like they're headed to Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state.

Vogel still sees value in the old tankers, which came into service during the Eisenhower administration.

"I may be a little biased, but there is only so far those bombers and fighters can go without a tanker," she said. "That 60-year-old airplane enables our ability to fight the war around the world."

Like almost everyone else I have talked to at MacDill, Vogel is deeply impressed by the community support showered on the base and its personnel.

"I've been in the Air Force for 27 years and I have never come across a community like Tampa and the surrounding areas," she said. "We feel welcome every day. I am blown away by the things the community does to reach out to us."

•••

The Pentagon last week announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

Staff Sgt. Aaron R. Butler, 27, of Monticello, Utah, died Aug. 16 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered from an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations. The incident is under investigation.

Butler was assigned to the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Camp Williams, Utah.

In addition, the Army has named the five missing crew members of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that crashed Aug. 15 in the waters off northwest Oahu, according to Stars and Stripes.

The soldiers were identified Monday as 1st Lt. Kathryn M. Bailey, 26, of Hope Mills, N.C.; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brian M. Woeber, 41, Decatur, Ala.; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Stephen T. Cantrell, 32, Wichita Falls, Texas; Staff Sgt. Abigail R. Milam, 33, Jenkins, Ky.; and Sgt. Michael L. Nelson, 30, Antioch, Tenn.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 43 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 35 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; and one death under classified as other contingency operations as part of the global war on terrorism.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.