KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Standing in front of a two-star general and explaining what your unit does and why could make anyone’s stomach twist. But members of the 403rd Wing not only did it without breaking a sweat, they did it with energy and passion.
Friday, 2nd Air Force leaders including their commander, Maj. Gen. Robert LaBrutta, visited the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing to gain a deeper understanding of its mission. This immersion tour gave 403rd members the opportunity to highlight the essential capabilities the wing provides, including the only Department of Defense weather reconnaissance mission as well as tactical airlift and airdrop, aeromedical evacuation and agile combat support.
The host 81st Training Wing here falls under 2nd Air Force and Air Education and Training Command. The 403rd Wing is considered a tenant unit. Keesler’s training and flying missions have shared the base since the 1970s, but the 403rd Wing wasn’t located at Keesler until 1983 and the 81st TRW wasn’t officially established until 1993. As part of this partnership, the 81st provides certain infrastructure and services that are critical to the 403rd Wing’s mission accomplishment. For example, the flight line, base security forces and air traffic control are all managed by the 81st Training Wing.
“You have two wings operating seamlessly together and this is the type of relationship and partnership we’re trying to develop across the Total Force,” LaBrutta said. “The bond between the 81st Training Wing and 403rd Wing is impressive, and is something I’m going to brag about to my leadership team. This is the way a mission should be executed all the time!”
This partnership was highlighted along with the 403rd Wing’s capabilities throughout Friday’s tour.
At the 403rd Maintenance group, attendees saw first-hand how the wing’s C-130J Super Hercules aircraft are kept ready to fly at a moment’s notice. LaBrutta even had the chance to fire one up himself in the isochronal inspection hangar with the help of Staff Sgt. Dan White, 403rd Maintenance Squadron crew chief. At the 403rd Operations Group they toured Hurricane Hunter and Flying Jenny aircraft, looked through night vision goggles and watched pararescue instructors jump from a 403rd aircraft during mutually-beneficial training.
Finally, at the 403rd Mission Support Group attendees watched 41st Aerial Port Squadron members unload and reload a Humvee from a palate and drop a prepared training palate from the top of a hydraulic lift.
"I really enjoyed the opportunity to show off our Citizen Airmen and their capabilities to General LaBrutta, as well as, to be able to highlight the wonderful relationship and support we receive from the 81st Training Wing" said Col. Michal Manion, 403rd Wing commander.
“Before today I thought all you did was the Hurricane Hunters mission set. However, this visit blew me away by everything the 403rd Wing accomplishes for our Air Force and our Nation. Through Col. Mike Manion’s leadership and the incredible professionals who execute these missions, this truly is a high performing organization,” LaBrutta said.
More than anything, the general was interested in meeting and engaging with the 403rd Wing’s members. At each stop of the tour, he introduced himself to every Airman present, gave his full attention and asked questions. Every member he met returned his smiles and showed pride for what they do here at the wing.
After Capt. Jacob McCutcheon’s presentation on the 815th Airlift Squadron, the general brought up his Pathways to Blue program, a two-day period every year where ROTC cadets come to learn about the Air Force and its different career fields.
He said, “You’re who I want them to be some day. Thanks for what you do.”