Col. Scott DeThomas knew he faced a big job when he took over command of MacDill Air Force Base last summer. But beyond keeping the 13,000-employee operation humming, the Rhode Island native and Air Force Academy graduate almost immediately had to deal with the fallout from the Gen. David Petraeus scandal and questions about the access given to the base to socialite Jill Kelley and others.
DeThomas also confronted the likelihood of major cuts to the military in Washington.
DeThomas served as commander of the 387th Air Expeditionary Group, Southwest Asia, before being assigned as commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill, overseeing KC135s refueling tankers and C-37s, twin-engine jets that transport high-ranking government and Department of Defense officials around the world.
As wing commander he is in charge of the base, which is the headquarters for U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, and also hosts 36 other operations. The base has an annual economic impact of close to $3 billion — close to $5 billion when military retirees are included.
DeThomas, the married father of two, visited with The Tampa Tribune Editorial Board recently to discuss base issues.
Typically in these situations you will do your best to keep the lower guys qualified, the folks who need it most, and back off maybe on your most experienced folks.
We’re talking through those options as we speak.
It’s going to be painful, and these are great Americans that I like to consider airmen. I am a big proponent that if you work for the Air Force and you have Air Force on your ID card, you are an airman.
These are administrative assistants, medical technicians. These are doctors, logisticians. These are fuel maintenance folks, civil engineers, every job we have.
The trend is a healthy trend based on where they were a couple of years ago. The numbers have decreased probably about 30 percent with a continuing trend to something more stable over the next year. I think we will see that, hopefully across the base.
Who was the first airplane to land in Saudi when Hussein was rattling his sword? …
There will be a training mission; there will a continuing responsibility to maintain presence there mostly in an advisory role.
What we found in our review, about 300 were inactive. They signed up but never came out to the base. So we started the process that maybe that 800 is not the right number, so we have already taken steps to remove that 300 from the list.
Everybody gets the same scan of their license and their police record. That’s a given for anyone who comes on base.
But … there are restrictions on who can be Honorary Commanders. Things that would be conflict of interests, whether it be business dealings, political, those things that would be seen as not in the interest of the military.
So we took that same concept and said, you know what, we probably should apply the same standards to the Friends of MacDill. After our team … reviewed the 500 folks, and they found only a handful, like less than 10 — all good people, just folks we may not (want) to have free access to the base. They can still get on base, just not have free access.
So we have to grow that capital. We have to make sure our airmen and their families are well cared for and encourage their development so that we can find solutions to tough problems.
The flying mission, the KC135, great airplane. C37, great airplane. Two very important missions. They definitely help keep us focused on what it is we do. And the final piece of that centering thing is the community.
Our folks live in great neighborhoods. They have great schools. I continue to be amazed at how well you take care of us. And it is important. It leads to mission effectiveness.
Well, guess what, we do our jobs extremely well at MacDill. We saw that in our inspection in November, with an overall excellence, second biggest inspection in Air Force history. It was incredible.
Folks are going to be struggling. We have seen signs …. How do you transition from a wartime airman to being home more? There are issues that come with that.
You know, 75 to 80 percent of our Air Force only know war. … Now we are going to transition them to hopefully being back home to garrisons and finding some stability in their lives. We have got to teach them how to do that. We have got to get them the tools to do that.
But … what a great place to transition to — Tampa. That’s good for you and me.