Monday, February 09, 2009

TOP STORY>>Otey glad he’s back at LRAFB

Leader senior staff writer

Good things happen to Col. Gregory S. Otey, new commander of Little Rock Air Force Base, when he’s stationed at the Rock, and the big, affable former football player says he’s glad to be back.

“This is a wing commander’s dream; the community support is so strong,” he said.

“I met Lisa here,” he said of his wife of 15 years. She was working at the Excelsior Hotel (now the Peabody) as a sales representative when Otey was stationed at the base in 1991 for Air Force Commanders’ School. When he returned to the base in 1995 to help stand up the C-130 Weapons School and near the beginning of that assignment, their first son Jacob was born at Baptist Hospital in North Little Rock.

Before the Oteys left in 1997, their second son, Lukas, was born. The couple has another son, Chris.

The Oteys bought their first house in Cabot during that period.

Now he’s back as base commander and commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, an expeditionary wing of war fighters.

He said two of his predecessors, Maj. Gen. Kip Self and Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz told him, “You will not find community support any better in the Air Force than at Little Rock Air Force Base.”

Otey said he has several goals for the time he spends at the base.

“I would like to improve educational opportunities for military families,” he said, and also to see the privatized military housing contract successfully implemented.

Schatz, Otey’s immediate predecessor, arrived at the base in May 2007 just as Carabetta-American Eagle’s failure as the developer became clear, and Schatz left just weeks after a new, trusted team of developers and managers has bought out Carabetta’s contract. Hunt-Pinnacle LLD is ramping up to demolish some houses Carabetta left unfinished, to finish others and to build and remodel hundreds more.

“Mission first, people always,” Otey said. “That’s nothing I thought up on my own. It’s a cliché, but it works.”

He said he would continue Schatz’s advocacy for better local public schools, for a new elementary school serving the children of airmen in place of Arnold Drive Elementary School, and that he would continue support for a standalone Jacksonville school district.

Ground should be broken soon for the $15 million Joint Education Center, funded two-thirds by the federal government and one-third by Jacksonville residents who voted to tax themselves. That center will house representatives of several colleges that provide classes for airmen and also area residents.

It is likely to be completed on Otey’s watch.

Otey was born at Roanoke, Va.

“I always wanted to fly planes,” said Otey, who soloed in a Cessna C-172 before he was old enough for a driver’s license.

He attended Virginia Military Institute on a football scholarship as a tight end. From VMI, he was accepted into pilot training at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz.

“I worked hard and asked (to pilot) a C-130 and I got C-130s,” he recalled.

He came to Little Rock Air Force Base for co-pilot school around June 1989 and returned in 1991 for Air Force Commander’s School. That was when he met the woman he would later marry.

“I came back in 1993 for an instructor pilot upgrade,” he said.

Otey’s most recent posting was as vice commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center at Fort Dix, N.J. Otey said he knew he was getting close to Arkansas when a Memphis waitress said, “Mornin’, darlin’, what do you want for breakfast?”

Otey said he and Col. Charles K. Hyde served at the same time in Iraq and Afghanistan and knew each other, though they hadn’t actually worked together.

Hyde is commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, the base’s other Air Force wing. The 19th is the host wing, and the 314th, which trains virtually all C-130 pilots, crews and maintainers for the U.S. and its allies, is the tenant.

The base is also home to the Air Guard’s 189th Wing, which trains C-130 teachers for the schools maintained by the 314th.

Otey, a Bronze Star recipient, is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours in military aircraft, including the C-130E and the state of the art C-130J.

Among 11 other awards, Otey received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters.