Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TOP STORY > >New commander shares optimism

Leader senior staff writer

A change of command at Little Rock Air Force Base is usually a pretty seamless affair, maybe never more so than when Col. Greg Otey passed the 19th Airlift Wing’s guidon to Col. Mike Minihan on Aug. 2.

Two big, affable men who have worked together and even slept in the same tent while serving as commanders in “the sandbox,” they are friends, Minihan said Tuesday.

Otey left after 19 months for a Pentagon assignment as division chief at Air Force headquarters.

Although Otey serves the joint chiefs, he is not part of the Joint Command that Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Mon-day proposed to abolish.

Minihan said he has spent the last week immersed in the different aspects of thebase. “The enthusiasm and pride (here) are nothing short of inspirational,” he said. “These young kids really know how to get the job done.”


He said “herk drivers” always like to come back to Little Rock Air Force Base and he was thrilled to learn that the community had won the Abilene Trophy for 2009 as the most supportive Air Mobility Wing community.

He said now everybody in the AMC knows what a great community this is.

Minihan is impressed with growth in the area and on the base, including the new Joint Education Center, which Jacksonville residents taxed themselves to help pay for.


Minihan said he would spend the first 30 days learning the people, environment and mission.

“I don’t anticipate any large changes,” he said. “The wing has proven itself time and again.”

After that, he said he would put his own leadership style in action, “but along the same battle lines (as Otey) — mission, people, family and fun.”

It was obvious during the change-of-command ceremony that a great deal of friendship and respect exist between the two men.

“I met Col. Otey in 1993 (moving from) Pope Air Force Base to Little Rock. In 2003, we deployed and worked together. He was the squadron commander and I was one of his operations officers. We slept in the same tent. He was a phenomenal mentor.

He’s partially responsible for my being here.”


He called Otey “a gracious leader with the heart of a teacher.”

Minihan lived in Sherwood prior to assignment to base housing and married the former Ashley Mixon while here. They have three children, Adair, Mikey and Marley, and is the son of (Ret.) Lt. Gen. Kenneth and Barbara Minihan.

The three Minihan children go to school in Little Rock. Adair, the oldest, will be a sophomore at Little Rock Central, Mikey, 11, will attend the Lisa Academy North and Marley, 6, is going into first grade at the Lisa Academy.

“We are big fans of public schools,” he said, but particularly with Adair, wanted to assure a smooth transition when the family leaves in two years, to her senior year at some as-of-yet unknown location. “My daughter is on her eighth school, he said.

“I want to carry on where the Oteys left off,” he said. “I want to partner with the local community and provide a world class education for the sons and daughters of airmen.”


A marriage wasn’t the only life-changing event for Minihan when he first came to Little Rock AFB.

He learned to fly the C-130 Hercules and how to lead here, and he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer by a flight surgeon at what was then the base hospital.

He underwent two operations and radiation treatments here and recovered from the cancer.

As far as personal challenges, Minihan said he’d been “out of the C-130 business for four years, three with the Army and with the Strategic Air Command. Here I’ll get back in the tactical airlift business.”

Challenges facing the wing are increased mission set and infrastructure, including base housing.

Problems with privatization of housing plagued the base until Hunt-Pinnacle bought the contract from a failed developer.

“I’m going to be paying a lot of attention there,” he said.

He described the existing partnership with the 314th Air Education Wing and the National Guard’s 189th Air Wing as “thriving.”

“It is an honor to be here, to not only serve with the airmen — and when I say airmen, I’m talking active duty, Reserve, Guard, civilians, contractors, retirees — to serve here again is just a real treat for me — to partner with an award-wining community to make sure our airmen have everything they need to thrive,” Minihan said.

“I look forward to carrying the ball forward, where Col. Otey left off,” he said. “And to spending two long years enjoying my time here at Little Rock.”