Posted by: Kris Knox on Tuesday, January 21, 2020


Kris Knox, LT'20

Military Day for the LT class of 2020 will be one of the highlights of the year.  The day was full of acronyms, astonishing statistics, state of the art technology and most of all, the amazing men and women of our armed forces.  We got an inside look into many features of MacDill Air Force base as well as first-hand accounts from many of those that have served.  We are fortunate to have such amazing people protecting and serving our country and it was awesome to get a small glimpse of what they do daily.

We started our day with a bus tour around MacDill to get a sense of how large the base is.  MacDill is considered a medium sized base but still seems to have all the amenities and needs you could ask for if you live on base.  There are grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and a pharmacy that filled 1.2 million scripts just last year.  As for entertainment there is a 36-hole golf course, bowling alley, gym and movie theater just to name a few.  MacDill is home to 7.1 miles of beach and while most of that isn’t usable waterfront, it is home to a great beach for the residents.  Medical facilities, schools and even two RV parks on base make it very accommodating for both active and retired military that call the base home.

MacDill has gone through four major phases since its inception in 1939.  It was a training facility from 1939-1946 for the Third Air Force.  The second ERA was for the Strategic Air Command and a focus on bombers from 1946-1962.  From 1962-1993 Tactical Air Command and Fighter Jets were the third phase.  Air mobility Command started in 1994 and remains today with a focus on Tankers and refueling procedures.  MacDill employs 22,773 employees and when you add in dependents that number goes above 57,000 with an annual military payroll of over 815 million.  Total payroll is 1.1 billion, retiree payroll is 943 million with a total economic impact to the Tampa Bay area of over 4.1 billion dollars annually.

MacDill is home to two major command centers for the United States Military.  United States Central Command and United States Special Operations Command.  We were fortunate enough to visit SOCOM and to experience the inside of this exclusive building.  This was an impressive facility with state-of-the-art technology.  The hallways were draped with previous war heroes and plaques honoring different battles throughout our history.  The war room was what you might picture from the tv shows and movies.  The war room was where we spent time with four decorated individuals that took our questions and shared some of their stories from inside the Special Operations world.  Like every other individual that we met that day, they were humble and grateful to us and the Tampa Bay community.  It was a shocking outlook to a lot of us as we are the ones that are grateful for them and their sacrifices.  The panel took our questions and answered every one honestly and openly and were extremely engaging.  SOCOM will have an average of 9,500 soldiers deployed at any given time to over 85 countries and territories.

After our trip to SOCOM we spent some time learning about the mental health and family initiatives that are vital to the health and wellness of military families.  Dr. Dora Mays and SGT Michael Smart spent time going over how important mental health is for each individual and the steps that they are taking to help where needed.  The military life for the individual and for the family can be very hard.  Short notice deployments, moving every three to four years, parenting imbalances and financial stress are just a few of the challenges that these families face.  The Military and Family Readiness Center focuses on assisting with these challenges and much more.  They are also finding that Generation Z (majority of the younger men and women in the armed services) are more likely to have less than excellent mental health as compared to previous generations.  The Military and Family Readiness and other resources like them are playing a crucial part in trying to increase the stability and wellness for military families.

MacDill’s primary function now is the refueling procedures and its KC-135 tankers.  We explored one of these massive planes inside and out to get a sense of the skill it would take to fly one on a successful refueling mission.  Since 1956 the KC-135 has been the tried and true refueling tanker for the air force.  There have been over 700 made to date and many of those are still in operation today.  You will not find the comforts that we are used to when flying our commercial airliners.  It takes a crew of four to successfully fly a refueling mission.  The pilot and copilot as well as two others that focus on the refueling aspect of the flight.  One crewman guides the target plane to the correct speed and location with a series of lights while the other is laying down in the back looking through a small window.  Through this window and two controllers, they will be responsible for guiding the boom into the target plane for refueling.  The KC-135 is not designed for passengers but does carry cargo on occasion.  There are only two long bench seats on each side of the plane with an open center big enough for pallets of cargo.  The KC-135 is an impressive tanker and plays a vital role in our nation’s military needs.

After seeing the KC-135 we got to take a tour of the military working dog facility.  The primary breads of these dogs are German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.  They are extremely intelligent breads and the individual dogs are chosen and trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  Once training is complete the dogs are available for one of two primary functions, Bomb Detection and Drug Detection. While they can only be trained one of these skills, they are all combat trained for their missions.  We were able to witness a training activity where we got to see the power, discipline and intelligence of these animals while still maintaining a tight bond with their trainers.

We had a unique and fun insight on leadership provided by COL Andy Stephan.  COL Stephan had many interesting stories about his travels around the globe and some of his challenges and successes that he faced with his leadership style.  He believed that it was important to know your people and be able to do any job that they do.  The Colonel felt that if you believed in somebody that you may need to take a chance on them even if it meant putting you in a tough situation.  COL Stephan had a unique approach and some of the most bizarre stories, but the common message was the importance of being a great leader.

We ended the day with a visit from Colonel Douglas Stouffer from the 927th Air Refueling Wing.  Colonel Stouffer was very proud and engaging with all of us.  He spent quite a while answering our questions and giving us a lot of information about MacDill and the important role that the reserves play in our military.  Over 355,000 men and women are a part of the reserves across the four main branches.  36 percent of the Air Force is in a reserve status.  Reserves are part time and usually dedicate two weeks a year and one weekend a month to the armed services.  Their training is designed to get them ready for duty if the need arises and to be able to coordinate with full time military without any issues.  Colonel Stouffer spoke very highly of the important role that Reservists play in our military and reminded us that we interact with these people in our everyday lives.

Throughout the entire visit to MacDill the overwhelming sense of honor and gratitude from everyone we encountered was amazing.  To spend the day on MacDill Air Force Base and see a little of what these heroes do each day was very humbling and will be something that I will never forget.  This day was so full of incredible stories and people that I could never do it justice in one written recap of the day.  I would just like to thank all who have served and the sacrifices their families make to provide us the freedoms that we enjoy today.