Posted by: Luis Pardo on Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):  Military Day for the Leadership Tampa Class of 2022 (LT22) provided a unique educational experience that helped us all better understand the role the military plays in our local community and the defense of our nation.

The military has been such an integral part of the Tampa Bay landscape since the establishment of Fort Brooke in the early 1800s.  Since then, our community has consistently embraced servicemembers who have been called to serve in the area.  LT22 arrived at MacDill Air Force Base with a mix of excitement and curiosity on Military Day.  The class has a wide range of experience with MacDill; two of our classmates support missions on base while some were first time visitors with little military acumen.

We were greeted by our outstanding day chairs Terry Montrose, Deputy Chief, Public Affairs at MacDill Air Force Base and Staff Sergeant Shannon Bowman, 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs.  Our bus tour helped us appreciate the expansive 5600 acres of the base boasting 7 miles of beautiful coastline. A desirable stop in any servicemember’s career, MacDill is home to 33 mission partners, the largest being Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the 6TH Air Refueling Wing (6 ARW), Central Command (USCENTCOM), and the 927th Air Refueling Wing (927 ARW).  Before we got down to the business of briefings, we were able to see some of the base’s amenities, including MacDill Beach, RV campgrounds, and two 18-hole golf courses available to those currently serving and veterans.

Colonel Cory Damon, Vice Commander, 6 ARW helped us understand the $2.9 billion impact brought to our community by the base and its 17,000-strong active-duty, civilian, and contract workforce.  Additionally, he conveyed the many working parts and partners of the 6 ARW’s mission and we learned that only 6% of the Air Force are actually pilots. Lastly, he covered the anticipated arrival of 24 KC-46A refueling aircraft in a few years that will begin to replace the current fleet of KC-135s. Colonel Harold Miller, Director of J3 International, USSOCOM helped the class understand the specific role Special Operations fill in the country’s defense and the level of training Special Ops forces must complete. He also articulated the need for a central command to coordinate the effective deployment of special forces from different military branches. USSOCOM’s #1 priority is to prevent another 9/11 type attack on our country. Rear Admiral T.R. Buchanan, Vice Director, USCENTCOM shared the global combatant command structure, and USCENTCOM’s mission to direct and enable military operations and activities in order to increase the security and stability of its area of responsibility, primarily the Middle East.  We learned about the 44-nation coalition partners here in Tampa and China’s growing military power. The last briefing was from Kishima Garcia, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, MacDill AFB to help us understand the base’s investment into ensuring diversity of thought around the decision-making table.

Energized by our learnings, we were ready to get hands-on. The first stop was the legendary KC-135 refueling plane, where airmen spoke to us about their operations, and we even got to climb into the rear cockpit where the boom operator with “the best view on the aircraft” connects the boom to jets in-flight.  These crews are often the unsung heroes because when they do their job well it is invisible, or as an airman put it “nobody talks about the gas station until there is no gas.” 

What day is complete without puppies?  Next, we visited the Military Working Dogs facility where the Kennel Master, Technical Sergeant Andrew Arvizo, and his team demonstrated how they train this impressive team of dogs in bomb detection, survivor search, and protection.  Needless to say, no one in the class volunteered to put on the bite suit, but we were still able to see the incredible amount of discipline in these canines as they quickly switched from vigilant to protection mode on command in a training exercise.

We then moved on to see the extensive knowledge and impressive technology leveraged by 6th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Flight. Technical Sergeant Scott Greco conveyed that while part of their mission is response to base incidents, they also provide support beyond the base to civil authorities in 15 counties and VIP support. The 1000+ annual training hours these airmen take were certainly evident as they provided us detailed information while demonstrating their robots and a clearly heavy and hot bomb suit. One class member noted that the bomb suit did not provide protection for their hands since their unrestricted use was necessary.  As the airmen confirmed that observation, we were quickly reminded of the risks they are willing to take to perform their duty.  A sense of gratitude was certainly in the air.

We transitioned from big booms to smaller ones as Staff Sergeant Joshua Pizarro-Figueroa took us through Combat Arms Training and Marksmanship (CATM) where they prepare airmen to be safe and proficient in handling arms.  We visited the range where they train and sharpen their skills.

With Special Operations being so…well, specialized, it takes an innovative and collaborative approach to meet their ever-evolving needs.  We made our way to the offices of SOFWERX in Ybor City, where we heard from Director Leslie Babich and Marketing Manager Tricia Maloney Jacobs. SOFWERX was established in partnership with USSOCOM to help solve challenging problems.  It facilitates collaboration, innovation, prototyping, and exploration with industry, labs, academia, and government. Think of it as an incubator connecting the private sector to the military to solve problems brought forth by USSOCOM.  It provides a great opportunity for problem solvers in our community to bring their products to the military and aid in our country’s defense.

As the day closed, the class reflected on the extreme professionalism of those charged with defending our country.  Those we encountered were experts in their field and everyone was impressed by the depth of their knowledge.  We all learned something new, even those of us who previously served in our armed forces.  We better understood the challenges of today’s enlisted ranks as they work to navigate the difficulties of the current Tampa area housing market and make decisions today that will affect the trajectory of their military careers.  We left with a deeper appreciation of how well-protected we are, the base’s impact to our community, and the outstanding leadership that resides right here in Tampa Bay.  To all those we encountered on Military Day – the Leadership Tampa Class of 2022 thanks you for your service to our country and for inviting us to experience this impactful day.