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Chief McKinley visits Airmen at Soto Cano

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley checks out the landscape over Texas from a C-130 Hercules bound for Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, Dec. 11. The chief was on the first leg of a four-base tour to visit Airmen in Central and South America and the Caribbean. (U.S. Air Force photo/Louis A. Arana-Barradas)

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley checks out the landscape over Texas from a C-130 Hercules bound for Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, Dec. 11. The chief was on the first leg of a four-base tour to visit Airmen in Central and South America and the Caribbean. (U.S. Air Force photo/Louis A. Arana-Barradas)

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras (AFPN) -- Delivering 12,000 cookies to Airmen at forward operating bases is just one of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley's many jobs.

But the prospects of meeting with Airmen at four Central and South American and Caribbean bases put a smile on the face of the Air Force's top enlisted Airman. He gets personal satisfaction from such visits.

He said it feels good "to be able to look the Airmen in the eye and shake their hands and tell them how much the Air Force, General (T. Michael) Moseley and their country appreciate them."

"And I find out about their needs," he said.

The chief is part of a delegation led by Brig. Gen. Robert Bartlett, the mobilization assistant to the 12th Air Force commander. The mission is allowing him to see contributions by Airmen to U.S. Southern Command operations. He is also hearing their concerns.

The chief said the trip -- apart from "bringing a little joy with some cookies" -- also helps him "spread the Air Force word to Airmen." And it allows him to tell them what is going on in the Air Force -- "things that maybe they haven't heard about yet."

Chief McKinley, who is from Mount Orab, Ohio, started his four-day trip at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The C-130 Hercules flight to Soto Cano took more than seven hours.

During the flight, the chief spent some time on the flight deck with the aircrew. He talked about his days working on the flightline. In return, the aircrew -- from the 198th Airlift Squadron of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard -- filled in the chief about its recent deployment to Afghanistan and about the times aircrew members were shot at. It was the first time the squadron deployed a C-130 to a war zone.

"This is a great opportunity to fly with the unit from Puerto Rico," the chief said. "The aircrew -- I found them to be absolutely fantastic. They've done great things in Afghanistan and other places."

The transport did not have to dodge any bullets or rocket-propelled grenades as it landed in Soto Cano. Instead, a fire station full of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines waited to hear the chief talk about the continued global war on terror, force shaping, the new Airman battle uniform and other topics.

Next to the open-sided station, Senior Airman Kenny Cumbie stood at parade rest with a detail of Airmen waiting to transport the chief and his party. The air transportation specialist from Cayey, Puerto Rico, who has been at Soto Cano one week, said meeting the chief is something not every Airman gets to do. The Airman said the visit is a good thing.

"For the chief to come here, to such a small base is great," he said. "He'll get to learn about our mission in this region of the world, which not too many people know about."

Chief McKinley answered questions from Airmen in the audience. That is part of the reason he makes these kinds of trips, he said. The concerns Airmen bring up in such question-and-answer sessions are something the chief takes back to General Mosley.
Others also benefit from these kinds of holiday trips. The chief provides feedback from Airmen to the air staff. Such visits give him a chance to find out directly from Airmen what they need.

"And I get to learn more about their mission and things that we can do to help them," Chief McKinley said.

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