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Memories of MacDill, Tampa Bay will always be with me

  • Published
  • By Col. David Cohen
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing vice commander
"There's no place like home! There's no place like home!" You may remember Dorothy repeating these words in the Wizard of Oz. As my wife Carolyn and I prepare to leave MacDill, these words ring in my ears. Of all the places I've lived in my 23+ years in the Air Force, the Tampa Bay community in general, and MacDill Air Force Base in particular, truly feel like home. And as we prepare for our next assignment, I simply wanted to leave you with some final thoughts and recollections.

Since that warm August day in 2009 when I became the 6th AMW vice commander, we've shared quite a journey. I remember vividly our reaction to the earthquake that devastated the small nation of Haiti. We prepared to send out aircraft, supplies, and medical teams, while preparing for the possibility of accepting up to 2,000 refugees, all while providing air refueling to the airborne lifeline that spared Haiti greater death and more tragedy.

We celebrated together during AirFest, hosting thousands of civilian friends from around the region. I will never forget the boy from Make-a-Wish who befriended me and insisted only I could take him out to meet the Blue Angel pilots. This boy had gone through many medical problems, including a stroke before his 10th birthday, yet his eyes sparkled watching the aerial demonstration. Tears still well up in my eyes thinking about him and the courage he displayed fighting his ailments.

Hosting the president of the United States is a monumental and honorable task. It's even more so on the rare occasion when he is also joined by the vice president. This is the scenario we found ourselves in, working flawless coordination between our Defenders, the Secret Service, local law enforcement, and the national news media.

While this was a happy and exciting occasion on the flightline, I will always remember the saddest of all events, when we have welcomed home our Fallen Heroes. The grief has been tempered, though, by MacDill and Tampa Bay's outpouring of support to the families as we have lined streets, avenues, and bridges showing our dedication to those who have paid the ultimate price for freedom.

We shined during the Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection, garnering an overall "Excellent" rating. For me, there was no prouder moment when, during an alert response, we had our civic leaders on the ramp watching the aircrews, maintainers, Defenders, and Fire Dogs, prepare and "launch" our aircraft on the Nation's most important, no-fail mission.

And then there was the operational readiness inspection! How can I put into words how honored I was to lead such a motivated group of people, from three different wings, in a common purpose. From sweating buckets during practice at Thunder Village, to the operational readiness exercise in Gulfport, Miss., to the successful deployment, execution, and redeployment from Savannah, Ga., you all pumped thousands of hours of training and preparation into the mission ... and it showed!

Whenever I give opening remarks to groups that come to tour the base, I make it a point to tell them about our "toys" -- all the very exciting and effective equipment and tools we use to do our jobs. Then I tell them, that while our "toys" are pretty impressive, it's really our Airmen I want them to meet. It's our Airmen that make our mission happen, day in and day out, at home, or deployed to deserts or mountains of far-away lands. You, the men and women of MacDill are the reason for this Wing's success.

After two amazing years as your vice commander, it's time for me to move on to another challenge. I can't thank you all nearly enough for your support, hard work, dedication, energy, and sense of humor. If MacDill has been our home, then you all have been our family. Carolyn and I will miss you all very much.