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A Day in the Life of the Wing Commander

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: "A Day in the Life of a ..." is part of a 10-week series which focuses on some of Pope's various career fields and offers a first-hand perspective to the readers.
I have to admit that the idea of spending the day with the Wing Commander made me a little nervous. My nervousness was not because I was afraid of him or thought badly of him in any way -- quite the contrary.

In fact, Col. McDonald was one of the first people I met after coming to Pope after technical training school. I was an airman basic then and he was the vice wing commander, but he was extremely friendly and welcoming to me. He did not act like he was too superior to talk to me. In fact, he asked me a lot of questions and didn't act like he didn't have the time to have a conversation with me. 

So why did I only manage to get two hours of sleep the night before? I am not really sure. Maybe my temporary case of insomnia was due in part to excitement and the other due to nervousness. I was not nervous of him, more of his position. In my mind, he holds such an esteemed position, and I just wanted to make sure I didn't do anything stupid.
Now I realize I should not worry so much about it, but what can I say -- it is in my nature to worry. However, when I woke up and started to get ready at 3 a.m., I gave myself the whole "he puts his pants on one leg at a time like everybody else" speech. 

After stopping at the Public Affairs office to grab the ever essential camera (a purchase Colonel McDonald allowed us to get), I drove to Bldg. 900 and arrived at quarter after four to wait for him to arrive. He arrived shortly thereafter, and the day was soon underway.
While I was walking with him down to the briefing room, some lyrics from a "Matchbox Twenty" song popped in my head: "I wonder what it's like to be the head honcho; I wonder what I'd do if they all did just what I said..." I am not exactly sure what prompted these lyrics to come to mind and please don't sign me up at Mental Health for hearing voices. I just find it fascinating to watch Colonel McDonald enter a room as everyone snaps to attention. He always quickly adds, "Carry on, carry on," but still I wonder how that feels to have people treat you with that kind of respect. I realize that it is the position that is treated with that respect, not the person necessarily, but it is still fun to watch the scene unfold. 

Like most higher-level leaders, seems so humble and down to earth. He is not at all pompous or impressed with himself. When I went with him to Bldg. 560, he went around to all the different areas and talked and shook hands with everyone he came across. It didn't matter who they were, he would strike up a conversation with them as if he had all the time in the world to talk to them. 

In the car ride over to the building, I asked him if the magnitude of the responsibility makes him nervous at all. He said he trusts the people who are in charge of their respective areas, and at the end of the day you can only do your best and not worry about the rest. He said that he was also grateful for his time he spent as the vice wing commander here because it helped him understand the base and the people here better before taking the position of wing commander. 

After he made his way around the areas of the building, he then acted as the facilitator for the inventory checks of the mobility bags. The first chalk was early. It was about 5:15 a.m., and most of the participants looked so tired, but Colonel McDonald managed to breathe some life into this crowd with his not-so-serious antics as a facilitator. He told them to yell out when they had certain items and wave them over their head before putting them in the bag. He dubbed two of the "inventory experts," who were there to hold up the items being called, "Vanna and Vinny." At the end of the checks, he then joked with the participants by telling them to stand at their places in such a rigid stance of attention that they should all be showing three chins. I looked around at all the participants and was amazed to see them laughing and seemingly enjoying themselves at such an early morning hour. 

After he participated in the first couple of chalks back to back, we came back to the Wing Headquarters Building to have paper review. On Thursdays, Colonel McDonald usually reviews our base paper, The Carolina Flyer, with Master Sgt. Vicki Johnson, acting chief of PA. I was able to sit in and observe as Colonel McDonald reviewed the paper with Sergeant Johnson. By this time, some of the Wing staff was beginning to trickle in and the next thing I knew, Master Sgt. Sylvia Ford had entered his office toting a Hardee's bag with two breakfast sandwiches. She had bought breakfast for the colonel and Sergeant Johnson which I thought was such a generous gesture. According to Sergeant Johnson, she always does that for them during paper review. Even more generous is that they both decided to give the sandwich to me, which was delicious, by the way. She told us about her new assignment to Alabama. I was happy for her but sorry to hear of her leaving. 

During this portion of the review, my spirits were running pretty high; however, I was feeling nervous because at any moment I knew Colonel McDonald would turn to the story I had written for that issue. Sometimes he will like a story and sometimes he will suggest some changes. This week was no different. And after rereading my story and making his changes, I must admit the story read much better. Everybody has "hit or miss" days. I learned you can't take it personally. Because really constructive criticism makes you better if you are willing to learn from it. 

After paper review, we went back over to Bldg. 560 for another chalk. By this time, the hour was approaching 8 a.m. so the processors didn't look quite as tired as the others. They even clapped and cheered at the end of Colonel Mac's inventory check. 

Since Colonel McDonald needed to prepare for Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott's visit, he dropped me off at the office so he could do what he needed to do. However, the plan was I would meet back up with him at the Airborne Special Operations Museum event held in honor of General Scott's visit later that night. 

I drove over to the event with Sergeant Johnson where we met up with Colonel McDonald who was staying busy interacting with all of our honorary commanders and local civic leaders. I watched him as he effortlessly mingled with all of the guests and even took time to say a few words in front of the lectern. 

When I was driving in his car with him earlier that day, he was explaining his day to me. I was impressed by his time management. And as I watched him perform his last duty of that day, I had to wonder at the incredible amount of discipline it must take to be in his shoes. Yet he never seems to miss a beat. He still finds time to be an available husband and father and yet perform all the demands his job asks of him. 

There was hardly a moment I spent with him where someone was not asking him a question or e-mailing him on his Blackberry, but he never faltered -- was never unprepared for what was thrown at him. At the end of the day, I felt that our base is in very competent hands.