I’d only been the wing commander for a few weeks when the 3rd Wing competed against sixty-three teams in the Air Forces’ 1998 Airlift Rodeo. Our C-130 aircrew flew on three consecutive days, performing a different type of airdrop mission each day. On all three drops, Elmendorf performed perfectly—hitting every turn point and gaining maximum points for safety, precise takeoffs, altitude control, and the avoidance of enemy threats. On landing, our aircrew put the C-130 down within a 400-foot landing zone at the proper airspeed. After five intense days of competition, the Elmendorf team proudly carried home six trophies, including the Rodeo’s top honor, Best Air Mobility Wing.
“Anne,” I said, “I’m very sorry to have to inform you that your husband, Lieutenant General David McCloud, was killed this morning in an aircraft accident involving his Yak-54.” Five days later, we gathered in a large aircraft maintenance hangar to celebrate Lieutenant General David McCloud’s life and passion for flying. The ceremony concluded with a fifteen-cannon salute, which thundered though the hangar and shook the ground like an earthquake. As the thick, white smoke cleared, we moved outside to watch four F-15s fly overhead to perform the missing man formation in honor of our fallen friend and comrade-in-arms. This ceremony was more familiar than I ever wanted it to be.
Adding an aircraft static display to each main entrance was the first step in changing the airbase’s bland first impression. Relocating the softball diamond in front of the Wing headquarters and replacing it with our Heritage Park was the next step. This new airpark displayed six aircraft that had been an integral part of our aviation history: the F-15, F-4, F-102, F-89, T-33, and C-130. Combined with the 80th anniversary weekend celebration, we inaugurated our new Heritage Park, the Wall of Heroes, and the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action memorial, and we hosted a base open house for the local community and air show.
My proudest moment of the air show took place after the Air Force Academy glider flew a series of precise acrobatics over the runway followed by a flawless landing in the grassy area next to the runway. When my son, Jonathan, emerged from the sleek glider, I felt the inner elation that comes from being a proud father who is watching his son mature into a young adult. Jonathan had chosen to attend the US Air Force Academy to pursue his passion for aviation. He excelled in flight training and has gone on to be one of the Air Force’s top fighter pilots.
In June 1999, six of us set out to retrieve this only known G model in existence. Contrary to what we had expected to find in the harsh Aleutian environment, the aircraft was still in surprisingly good condition. Don Delk and I dug the nose gear out of the mud and then we all worked together to disassemble the major components of the P-38.
We used a helicopter to sling each aircraft piece to the Coast Guard station on Attu. The parts were then loaded onto an Alaska Air National Guard C-130 for the trip back to Anchorage.
The “Lightning Save” team rebuilt the crashed P-38 piece by piece and the magnificently restored aircraft was mounted in its final resting place near Heritage Park. This aircraft now provides a fitting memorial to our former commander of the Alaskan Command, Lieutenant General David J. McCloud, and to those members of the 54th Fighter Squadron who died in the Aleutian Campaign during the Second World War.
At our weekly staff meeting, I volunteered to shave my head if the Wing received an Outstanding rating on the IRRI. After the readiness inspection, we all assembled in the base theater for the final PACAF/IG inspection briefing. I was happy to see many signs with our Excellence is our standard—Outstanding is our objective slogan. Little did I know that on the back side of these signs was a photoshopped picture of me with a shaved cranium. With each successive Outstanding score, the applause grew louder. Finally the audience was on their feet cheering. Then came the final slide . . . “Overall rating for the 3rd Wing is Outstanding.” The place went wild. The cheering gradually morphed into words that I slowly began to decipher in my joy. “Shave it off! Shave it off! Shave it off!”
When civil engineers laid out the base during the Second World War, they used an arc and radial system to number all the buildings. This numbering system was difficult for drivers and pedestrians because house numbers did not follow a sequence as one moved along a street. We decided to switch to a standard grid system. Fire trucks, ambulance drivers, command post controllers, and pizza delivery cars now only needed the four-digit street address number, and they would be able to easily locate any house or facility on base. A team of technicians from the 3rd Civil Engineering Squadron replaced all street signs one Saturday morning. One unhappy individual wrote a letter to the editor saying, “Why can’t we have women Wing Commanders? When women get lost, they just stop and ask for directions.”
I decided to make my last flight special by taking Timmothy Dickens, the Wing’s top chief master sergeant, up in the back seat of a two-seat F-15. When cleared for takeoff, I slammed the throttles as far forward as they would go. The afterburners kicked in and the F-15 threw us back in our seat as it shot down the runway. At the end of the runway, I pulled the nose straight up and we watched Elmendorf grow smaller behind the screaming Eagle as dawn began to chase away the darkness. Approaching 18,000 feet of altitude, I rolled the aircraft smoothly onto its back and pulled the F-15’s nose to the horizon. We rolled out pointing toward Alaska’s highest mountain peak. The rising sun slowly illuminated the top of the snow-covered pinnacle—it looked like a special holiday candle just lit for my last flight.