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From bombers to tankers: MacDill celebrates 77 years of excellence

MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., was formally dedicated as an air base April 16, 1941. The base is named in honor of Col. Leslie MacDill, a respected aviation pioneer in the Army Air Corps who died in a BC-1 plane crash shortly after taking off from Bolling Field, D.C. in 1938.

MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., was formally dedicated as an air base April 16, 1941. The base is named in honor of Col. Leslie MacDill, a respected aviation pioneer in the Army Air Corps who died in a BC-1 plane crash shortly after taking off from Bolling Field, D.C. in 1938. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

A KC -135 Stratotanker aircraft flies over MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., after a refueling mission Jan. 16, 2018. This was the first training flight for the 50th Air Refueling Squadron after being relocated here.

A KC -135 Stratotanker aircraft flies over MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., after a refueling mission Jan. 16, 2018. This was the first training flight for the 50th Air Refueling Squadron after being relocated here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Nunez)

Various aircraft sit on the MacDill Field flightline during the World War II era. MacDill Field is named in honor of Col. Leslie MacDill, a military pilot who was killed instantly after crashing, shortly after take-off from Bolling Field, D.C., in the BC-1 airplane he was piloting.

Various aircraft sit on the MacDill Field flightline during the World War II era. MacDill Field is named in honor of Col. Leslie MacDill, a military pilot who was killed instantly after crashing, shortly after take-off from Bolling Field, D.C., in the BC-1 airplane he was piloting.

Going back to the 1950s, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. was a member of U.S. Strategic Command's ancestor, Strategic Air Command. From MacDill’s runways, the courageous Airmen of that time launched the then-new strategic bomber, the swept-wing B-47 Stratojet, which took off with a loud roar and massive exhaust plumes. (Courtesy photo)

Going back to the 1950s, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. was a member of U.S. Strategic Command's ancestor, Strategic Air Command. From MacDill’s runways, the courageous Airmen of that time launched the then-new strategic bomber, the swept-wing B-47 Stratojet, which took off with a loud roar and massive exhaust plumes. (Courtesy photo)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- From bombers to fighters to tankers, I’ve seen a great deal in my 77 years.

I was born out of efforts to improve the U.S. Army Air Corps in late 1938 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined a program to expand air services. This, along with increasing fear of Nazi U-Boats attacking merchant ships in the Gulf of Mexico after the eruption of World War II in 1939, paved the way for my inception as Southeast Air Base in Tampa, Florida.

I was formally dedicated April 16, 1941, after being renamed MacDill Field in honor of Col. Leslie MacDill, a respected pilot and aviation pioneer.

Shortly after the U.S. Air Force was established in 1947, I officially became known as MacDill Air Force Base.

My first mission was to provide air defense to the Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, until the U.S. entered World War II. From then, my primary mission became the training of Airmen to fly and operate bombardment aircraft such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-26 Marauder. I housed as many as 15,000 troops during this time.

Following the end of the war, I was reassigned to the Strategic Air Command where I caught my first glimpse of the air refueling world.

However, by 1960, I faced an uncertain future as the Department of Defense announced the phase out of certain bomber aircrafts, slating my gates to permanently close. Although the aircraft were deactivated, my value as a staging area and my capabilities for strategic deterrence were highlighted during possible hostilities with Cuba, which resulted in my gates remaining open.

With the bombers phased out, I was once again reassigned; this time under the Tactical Air Command in 1963, which brought the F-4 Phantoms and later the F-16 Fighting Falcons to Tampa. I remained a fighter base for almost 30 years, training about half of all F-16 pilots in the Air Force at the time.

In 1991, I once again faced uncertainty when a shift in military strategy led to a halt of flying operations on my runway. Because of this, I had until 1993 to transfer my fleet of F-16s to my brother Luke in Arizona.

I was given a second chance at life in 1994 when the Air Mobility Command gave me the 6th Air Base Wing with the primary mission of providing support services to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and the growing number of mission partners. I was also given the opportunity to provide further evidence of the effectiveness of my location during Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, where I served as the primary staging facility.

Mission success in Haiti emphasized the value I offer, which led to me being chosen as the site for a KC-135 Stratotanker air-refueling mission and later a C-37 Gulfstream airlift support mission, which gave me my current designation as the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

I currently execute air refueling, airlift and contingency response missions for U.S. and allied forces around the world as MacDill Air Force Base, along with nearly 20,000 service members.

For my birthday, I want to celebrate all of you – the men and women who serve. Thank you to those who have supported my many missions throughout the past 77 years. Happy birthday Team MacDill!