Tuesday, July 09, 2013

TOP STORY >> 19th AW chief says he’s ready for challenges

Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, left, takes the guidon from Brig. Gen. (Select) Brian Robinson, former commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base as the new commander, Col. Patrick Rhatigan, far right, looks on during the change-of-command ceremony Tuesday at the base.

Leader staff writer

Col. Patrick Rhatigan took charge Tuesday of Little Rock Air Force Base’s 19th Airlift Wing, which he says is undergoing a lot of “turbulence.”

Rhatigan told the hundreds of airmen and community leaders gathered for the change-of-command ceremony that sequestration is tightening belts but the base is transitioning to the newer C-130Js.

LRAFB will also be inspected in just a few months, he added.

Rhatigan didn’t specifically mention the 11-day furlough notices that approximately 657 civilian employees at the base received last month.

The mandatory unpaid leave started Monday and will end with the start of the fiscal year in October.

That’s approximately one day off per week, or about a 20 percent reduction in pay for nonessential civilian workers because of sequestration cuts in the federal budget.

Rhatigan assured the crowd, “My focus will be stability and to release the creative minds of our airmen.”

He also said, “I’m excited to be part of this. Each of you is an essential part of the team Little Rock family. This is where airmen start, train, upgrade and excel.”

Rhatigan thanked Brig. Gen. (Select) Brian Robinson, who commanded the base for 18 months, for leaving him “with a wing that is clearly firing on all cylinders.”

Rhatigan noted, “Fatigue is a fitting word for the Air Force,” which has the job of flying, fighting and winning.

But the new commander said the world doesn’t care about budget cuts, inspections or other issues the branch and its bases are dealing with.

“When there is a need for combat airlift, they turn to the greatest Air Force on the planet,” and the Air Force calls on LRAFB, he explained.

“I look forward to joining with you to answer that call,” Rhatigan said. “Our nation expects (our answer).”

The 19th Airlift Wing is the “Home of C-130 Combat Airlift” and works in concert with the 314th Airlift Wing, 189th Airlift Wing, 22nd Air Force Detachment 1 and USAF Mobility Weapons School in all aspects of C-130 operations and training.

As commander, Rhatigan will lead the world’s largest fleet of C-130 aircraft and be responsible for providing worldwide deployable C-130 aircraft, aircrews, expeditionary combat support, personnel and equipment for Air Mobility Command and Air Expeditionary Force taskings.

He replaces Robinson, who was recently selected for promotion to brigadier general and will become the vice commander of Air Mobility Command’s 618th Air and Space Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center) at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The 618th AOC is responsible for executing global command and control of all Air Mobility Command airlift and air refueling missions conducted as the air component of U.S. Transportation Command (USTC).

Robinson noted that teamwork, courage and the airmen’s ability to identify and seize opportunities would help LRAFB keep its reputation of excellence.

“You make miracles happen. Keep taking care of each other,” he said.

Highlighting the importance of teamwork, the former commander quoted a proverb, “Those who want to go quickly go alone. Those who want to go far go together.”

About courage, Robinson said, “For God’s sake, when a senior officer asks for your opinion, grow some courage and give him your honest opinion.”

He thanked everyone for their support during his tenure at LRAFB.

Robinson said of the community, “The warmth you throw around this base I’ve never seen before. Thank you is not enough.”

State Sen. Eddie Jo Williams, Tuskegee Airman Milton Crenshaw, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert, Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman, Ward Mayor Art Brooke and several aides representing legislators and members of Congress attended the ceremony.

Robinson told Rhatigan, “You are joining great teams. You and Karen (Rhatigan’s wife) are the right people to run the next leg of this race.”

Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, commander of the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., was the officiating officer for the change-of-command ceremony.

He said that he hopes LRAFB will maintain its reputation of excellence under its new leader.

“Earn it by daring to learn more, dream more and do more,” as John Quincy Adams once advised, McDew told the crowd.

He complimented Robinson for having a “steady hand in the midst of crises.”

After praising the outgoing commander, McDew asked, “Who could possibly replace a perfect commander? You know how the system works. We find another perfect commander.”

He called Rhatigan “well-respected” and “a proven warrior and commander” with “strong character.”

McDew continued, “I know without a doubt you will lead this team to continued excellence. Inspire them to dream and do more.”

Rhatigan is coming to LRAFB from a one-year deployment at an undisclosed base in Southwest Asia, where he was the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group commander.

The group provided airspace control, aeromedical evacuation, in-flight air refueling, combat aerial delivery, operational support airlift, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and close air support throughout Central Command’s area of operations.

The group’s duties also included airfield operations and support for the United States and Coalition Forces in the Arabian Gulf and Enduring Freedom and the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa.

Rhatigan, a 1991 graduate of the Air Force Academy with a degree in English literature, pinned on his colonel eagles in September 2011.

He earned his pilot wings in 1992 at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz.

As chief of the Prime Nuclear Airlift Force at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., Rhatigan was responsible for the worldwide logistical movement of nuclear weapons.

Before his most recent deployment to Southwest Asia, Rhatigan held several staff positions at the Pentagon, including speechwriter for the secretary of the Air Force and military assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs.

Rhatigan is a 1987 graduate of Bethpage High School on Long Island, N.Y.,

Before moving to the Pentagon, he served as commander of the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

Rhatigan has had numerous deployments to the Asian theater and he is a command pilot with more than 4,700 hours in six types of aircraft.

Rhatigan and his wife, Karen, have four preschool and elementary school-aged children — Clarice, Gavin, Lucan and Tristan.