By: Kirk Jones
MacDill Air Force Base located on the southern end of the Tampa peninsula, has been a staple in the Tampa Bay area for more than 80 years. Home of United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and United States Central Command (CENTCOM), 6th Air Mobility Wing along with the 927th Air Refueling Wing, MacDill could easily make a claim as one of the top 5 key bases in the United States of America arsenal.
I arrived at MacDill on a hot day in mid-July 2000 for a reserve assignment at SOCOM. It was my first time to the Tampa area after completing my initial boot camp training in Orlando and my A-school instruction in Pensacola, both in 1986. While on my reserve assignment at MacDill, I completed orientation with a class of 50 active duty and reserve personnel. At the conclusion of one presentation about the status of special operation forces and training, I asked the presenter whether any women will be considered for training in special forces programs? The room fell to a dead silence. The question had never been asked before. Today, there are more women serving in special forces billets than ever before. My initial reserve tour at MacDill lasted until December 2000. I would return to MacDill under mobilization orders after the September 11, 2001 attack on America in January 2002, again at SOCOM.
In addition to my duties at the base, I was able to make key connections in the Tampa community. One of the first contacts was with Daryl and Tammy Johnson of N-Touch News. On my frequent visits to the John F. Germany Library in the heart of downtown Tampa, I would often pick up copies of N-Touch News publications and be enlightened by the educational and uplifting articles in the complete color paper. I reached out to Daryl in Ybor City for lunch and was completely elated to join the news team writing sports and community articles while assisting with distribution of the paper.
My association with paper grew into establishing a non-profit organization (CAMJ&T) CAMJET, in honor of my parents Joyce and Ted Jones and partnering with my hometown Camden, New Jersey friend Chris Collins, in the creation of the first ever CAM-TAM (2004) exchange programs in which high school students from Camden visited Tampa and the following year, Tampa students visited Camden. Daryl and Tammy’s youngest daughter Kindall “Sunshine” (now a U.S. diplomat )was one of the students from Tampa to visit Camden. I fondly remember Sunshine enthusiastically stating “I want to go to Camden,” when she heard about the exchange program.
MacDill opened many opportunities including to be a part of the SOCOM Bucs flag crew with Navy Chief Michael “Shane” Linton and a host of volunteers. MacDill in 2005 experienced their first ever division 3 college level basketball program and I was honored to serve as its first head coach. From 2005-06 our men’s basketball program played college teams from around Florida while also competing in the military SEMAC (South East Military Athletic Conference). Air Force Terry Williams, Kevin ‘KP’ Phillips, Kendric Greene, Remero Green, Army Johnny Rodgers, were among some of the members of the team.
MacDill has continued to grow with a new hospital, new buildings for both SOCOM and CENTCOM and a Navy Reserve facility. While on a reserve assignment with US Africa Command (AFRICOM), also a tenant member of the MacDill community, it was an honor to serve and be in the presence of many who would become bright lights and great leaders of America. One such individual is our newest Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Lloyd Austin. Retired General Austin served as Commander of Central Command and it would never be unusual to see General Austin around the base. ‘Made at MacDill’ could easily be a phrase of success for many who serve and work at Tampa’s premier military facility.