Community: The foundation to MacDill’s success

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lauren Cobin
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Business leaders, chamber of commerce members, program managers and others took flight with the 6th Air Refueling Wing for a multi-base tour April 21, beginning at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

The two-day trip allowed 23 civic leaders from the Tampa Bay area to witness the Air Force mission on a large scale.

The purpose of the civic leader program is to bring together leaders from local communities to partner and educate the public on the similarities and differences between military and civilian operations.

“It is important that we recognize our partners and how they support us on a daily basis,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shae Gee, 6th ARW command chief. “For them to see how we take of the mission from start to finish and making sure that we support what happens downrange, gives them an inside picture so they can share their experiences with the rest of the community.”

During the first portion of the trip, civic leaders observed a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft flown by Col. Ben Jonsson, 6th ARW commander, refuel a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft assigned to Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

In the boom-pod, the group laid beside Airman 1st Class Damien Bowles and Tristan Shannon, 91st Air Refueling Squadron boom operators, during the refueling to experience the talent of young Airmen working in mission-essential roles.

“This was a great experience,” said Shannon. “It is always fun to show people around and I think that these events improve our outreach to the community. As for the crew, this was a trip we were all really looking forward to.”

After completing their refueling mission, the group touched down at JB Charleston, where the Tampa leaders received an in-depth tour of a C-17, an adrenalin-filled demonstration from a team of Phoenix Raven security forces Airmen and an insightful meeting with aeromedical evacuation specialists.

Additionally, the civic leaders met with service members and civilians from the 437th Maintenance Squadron who repair critical flight equipment; Airmen assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron who are responsible for collecting imagery in support of strategic operations worldwide; and later, a spring social that brought together nearly 100 civic leaders from the Tampa and Charleston areas.

Day two of the civic leader tour brought the group to the 96th Test Wing located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 22.

Operating 38 modified test aircraft and managing 120,000 square miles of over-water test ranges, plus facilities in six different states, the 96th TW executes developmental tests and evaluations to enable the warfighter to put weapons on target in all battlespace media.

Shelby Daniell, 96th TW chief of community engagement, shared that the Tampa leaders were one of the first groups to tour Eglin facilities since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“It is really important that we provide these tours to improve community relations and build on our partnerships,” said Daniell.

More than extraordinary aircraft and powerful weapons, team Eglin opened their doors to reveal the 96th Medical Group and the Intrepid Spirit Center, providing a demonstration on tactical combat care practices and the integrative, multi-disciplinary and holistic care center.

“It was overwhelming to comprehend how much responsibility these young airmen have,” said Sandy Clawson, Tampa Electric Company's corporate director of ethics and compliance, after touring the medical facilities. “This has been really moving to see how much we care for our veterans, in terms of non-visual injuries, who give their lives to their country. At such a young age, many of these Airmen we’ve met have such a responsibility to protect our freedom. This trip has made me appreciate how lucky we are to be Americans.”

Upon return to MacDill, Jonsson shared his gratitude for the community.

“My heart was bursting to see how proud this community is of our Airmen, just as we are,” Jonsson said. “To see these young Airmen doing these really impressive things, medically, in aircraft, or on the ground in a maintenance facility, is awesome. We appreciate you coming along on this trip.”