Thursday, May 21, 2015

TOP STORY >> For air base, commitment always there

Col. Patrick Rhatigan, who is stepping down next week as commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, says he’s retiring from the Air Force at a time when the air base continues to modernize and better meet the needs of airmen.

Despite the many difficulties ahead, Rhatigan said the commitment never wavers and the air base continues to do well as it approaches its 60th anniversary this fall.

Rhatigan became 19th Airlift Wing commander in July 2013. His successor, Col. Charles E. Brown Jr., takes over the 19th Airlift Wing in a change-of-command ceremony next Wednesday morning. Brown is vice commander of the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base in Japan. Brown was previously commander of the 62nd Airlift Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“My time at Little Rock Air Force Base was a time of unprecedented change in our Air Force,” Rhatigan said. “From sequestration to government shutdown to force management, our airmen and civilians have endured the continued turbulence of fiscal restraints and uncertainty. Yet, we buckled down every time to accomplish the mission safely and effectively. Combat airlift is the heart of this base, and I could not be prouder of the men and women of Team Little Rock and their incredible resilience and dedication to the mission.”

Rhatigan focused his leadership on three primary priorities during his time here: Mission, airmen and partners.


When Rhatigan arrived, the 19th Airlift Wing was beginning its transition from C-130H models to C-130J models.

By the end of 2014, the wing transferred 28 of the C-130H legacy aircraft to 13 different units and now has 23 of the 28 C-130Js planned for assignment to the base.

“During this large operational muscle movement, there was zero dip in mission accomplishment,” he said.

The base hosted the first-ever Air Mobility Command unit-effectiveness inspection in September 2013, earning an overall effective rating for the wing.

The inspection concluded only days before the government shutdown on Oct. 1, 2013.

“Again, Team Little Rock airmen covered down and rolled right into the next challenge,” the colonel said.

Under Rhatigan’s leadership, the 19th Airlift Wing had nearly 400 airmen and 11 C-130 aircraft deployed at any time in support of operations in Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

Construction has started on a new 12,000-foot runway and adjacent landing strip that were built in the 1950s. The project will cost $107.9 million and will be completed in April 2017.
The base celebrated a historic end-of-year funding for 2014, receiving $204 million for many of these renovations and upgrades.

One of the biggest challenges during Rhatigan’s tenure was modernizing the infrastructure of the base.

After his arrival, the roof on the base theater collapsed, the bowling alley had similar issues and the pool could not open (as it was still in its 1955 original design).

The roads needed repairs. The barricades at the gates needed updates for security and safety measures.

The base pool is opening for Memorial Day weekend.


The wing held the first-ever LRAFB Facebook Town Hall. This was also a first for Air Mobility Command.

“This four-time repeat event was a convenient, virtual way to include the Team Little Rock community in discussing issues that directly affected the 17,000 base personnel,” Rhatigan said. “From medical to infrastructure to morale and welfare, the town halls covered a myriad of topics and gave airmen and their families a direct line to wing leadership.”

One of the greatest successes happened just this April 3, when the $3.7 million Walters Community Activity Center opened. The new facility is dedicated to one thing: taking care of Team Little Rock’s airmen.

The center is a multifunctional gathering place from airmen and their families. Centrally located on base, airmen now have one-stop access to the library, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Community Activity Center, classrooms, study rooms, computer rooms, free Wi-Fi and, coming soon, a new coffee shop.

“Not only is this facility an incredible quality-of-life project, it’s also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) facility.”

The construction of the WCAC also led to the demolishment of five outdated buildings that saved the Air Force $875,000 annually.

The Leadership Pathways program got wings during Rhatigan’s time here. This resilience program is dedicated to airmen and families. More than 60 classes were offered in 2014 and attended by more than 21,000 personnel, Rhatigan said.

The commander focused efforts into the Air Force Chief of Staff’s highest priority — sexual assault prevention and response.

Rhatigan facilitated growth and new voice to the SAPR program through small group talks, guest speakers, publishing prevention and victims’ stories and wing stand-down days. Airmen spoke up and LRAFB saw a 100 percent increase in reporting and five reports switched from restrictive to unrestrictive reports.

“This is when I always say leadership matters. The dedication of our airmen, from group commanders to frontline supervisors, to creating a climate of dignity and respect is why we’ve seen this program continue to improve.

“And, ultimately, we can help the victims who now feel safe to come forward and seek help,” Rhatigan said.

The airmen of the 19th Airlift Wing won four Department of Defense, 11 Air Force, 99 Air Mobility Command and 21 national organizations awards.

The 19th AW also earned the 2014 Jimmy Doolittle Award from the Air Force Historical Foundation for sustained, significant contributions to Air Force history as well as the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the first time since 2007.

“We know it’s not about the awards, but this is a living example of how Team Little Rock airmen get it done,” the commander said.

“Even during these challenging budget and manning constraints, our team continues to excel in everything we do,” Rhatigan said.


• In April 2014, after the E-4 tornado struck Vilonia, Team Little Rock responded by establishing local donation points and overseeing the bed-down of FEMA within three hours.

Then, with only three days of notice, the wing welcomed President Barack Obama on the flightline to support his visit to the community and victims of the tornado.

• Recently, Little Rock Air Force Base was submitted as a trial base for the Air Force’s Integrated Wing concept.

This concept is part of a series of efforts by the Air Force to operate more efficiently in the future.

“The great news: Team Little Rock is already living total force integration every day through formal associations between the 19th Airlift Wing (AMC) and 913th Airlift Group (Air Force Reserves) and informal agreements with the 314th Airlift Wing (Air Education and Training Command) and 189th Airlift Wing (Air National Guard),” Rhatigan said.

• The Public-to-Public and Public-to-Private Partnership Program (P4) has flourished for Team Little Rock with Rhatigan’s leadership.

Eight joint initiatives/projects were identified that would see an estimated $4 million annual positive financial impact.

The Air Force’s Strategic Master Plan calls for a vision of Installations 2023, where bases will be a hybrid of military assets and community resources. Through P4, LRAFB is leading the way.

“We’ve already privatized our food, housing, electric and are working on privatizing water. The goal is to lower costs and increase our capabilities,” Rhatigan said.

“The unwavering support of our community partners has been the foundation of Little Rock Air Force Base since its inception in 1955. The community’s established concerted efforts and partnerships with Team Little Rock helped pave the way forward into the P4 program.

“Before I depart, it’s a rewarding feeling to know this program will continue to succeed and lead LRAFB into the future, toward a true hybrid base,” Rhatigan said.

First Lt. Amanda M. Farr, acting chief of public affairs at the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, contributed to this report.