A fresh wind blows at MacDill

Col. Margaret Woodward hands over the reins to Col. Robert Thomas at a ceremony Monday.

Published March 27, 2007

TAMPA - With a prayer, a few smart salutes and the piped-in flourishes of the Air Force song, a new commander took charge Monday of MacDill Air Force Base and its 6th Air Mobility Wing.

At a formal ceremony inside an aircraft hangar, Col. Robert Thomas accepted the reins as base commander from MacDill's departing chief, Col. Margaret Woodward.

Woodward, 47, MacDill commander for about two years, thanked personnel for their excellence during her tenure. She now departs for a job as commander of the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The 89th is the home of the presidential aircraft Air Force One, and may mark Woodward on a fast track for the star of a brigadier general.

The move also brings her closer to her husband, Dan, who is a brigadier general based in Washington, D.C.

"You were always there," Woodward told a crowd of several hundred mostly Air Force personnel and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. "We worked together. Everything we achieved, we achieved together. ... Today I stand alone to say, 'Thank you.' "

Thomas, 44, a pilot who is a graduate of the National War College, commanded the 572nd Contingency Response Group at Travis Air Force Base in California. He is a former resident of Fort Lauderdale and son of a fighter pilot.

Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hawkins, commander of the 18th Air Force, said he was sorry to see Woodward go. But he said he was happy to see her reunited with her husband.

Then, recounting Thomas' credentials, Hawkins told the crowd, "So this guy is no slouch either."

The change of command was dominated by the presence of the giant KC-135 refueling tanker parked by the entrance of the hangar, one of 16 assigned to MacDill and the base's signature aircraft.

MacDill also serves as the home of U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, making it a nerve center for the war on terror. Both, however, have their own commanders.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or 813 226-3436.