FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION CURACAO, Netherlands Antilles (AFPN) --
Not much has surprised Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley during his whirlwind tour of four key U.S. Southern Command bases.
Before departing for Muñiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico, the last stop on his four-day tour, he said from what he has seen, command operations are on track.
"There's not any one thing I see that's broken that I need to go straight back and talk to General [T. Michael] Moseley about," the chief said. "I think 12th Air Force leadership is all over the mission here."
The trip was the chief's first orientation and fact-finding mission to bases in Honduras, Ecuador, Curacao and Puerto Rico. The trip, dubbed the "Cookie Caper," also was an opportunity to take Airmen 12,000 cookies and to provide entertainment from comics Dave Attell and Scott Sullivan.
At each stop -- which included Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras; Forward Operating Location Manta, Ecuador; and Muñiz -- the chief said he met "quality Airmen of all ranks."
"They wear the uniform proudly. They know their job. And they do it in a great manner," the chief said.
That is a plus for Southern Command, which is responsible for a large area rich in natural resources, but that still has many poor countries, Col. Mark Mouw said. The colonel commands the 474th Operations Group that supports all the forward bases.
The colonel, from Tucson, Ariz., said Chief McKinley should learn of the variety of missions Southern Command Airmen must do and the different environments in which they must operate.
"There's a lot going on down here that is not the bombs-and-bullets kind of stuff that's popular in the press," he said.
The colonel said everyone is familiar with events in the U.S. Central, U.S. European and Pacific commands, but that Southern Command has unique challenges. That includes getting top-notch Airmen to do jobs with little supervision.
That fact is not lost on the chief. But he said Southern Command, through 12th Air Force, is ready to "take care of whatever needs their Airmen have."
Senior Master Sgt. Lee Beausoleil said the chief provided insight into many topics. The superintendent of Curacao's 429th Expeditionary Operations Squadron, he said it is OK that Airmen in the war on drugs do not get all the publicity others do because Southern Command Airmen know their contributions are paying off in the counterdrug effort.
"So it's great that our leaders can come down here and see our contribution to our nation's defense," the sergeant from Las Vegas, Nev., said.
During his visits, Chief McKinley had a full itinerary as he talked to Airmen about important Air Force issues. He answered questions, shook a lot of hands and posed for photos with Airmen and civilians at all the forward locations.
Apart from the orientations, briefings and other functions, the chief wanted to thank Airmen for their service.
"This is a holiday season and we have CEOs -- civilians, enlisted and officers -- who are gone away from their families all over the world during this season," the chief from Mount Orab, Ohio, said. "And I want to thank all of them for what they're doing for our country."
At Curacao, the chief took a ride in a fire engine, one of the newest in the Air Force inventory. Before boarding the Puerto Rican Air National Guard C-130 Hercules that shuttled him from one base to another, he said there was something else that impressed him during the trip -- the local people he met.
Chief McKinley said the local people who work at the bases are friendly and supportive. That is important because "we cannot succeed at these bases" without the "support of the local nationals."
"These people have integrated into the success of our bases," the chief said.Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)Click here to view the comments/letters page