Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Self-effacing general’s revealing talk

Brig. Gen. Kip Self, the new commander at Little Rock Air Force Base, made his first public appearance outside the base at a Jacksonville Cham-ber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday.
The general, who has a self-effacing, down-to-earth style, said he didn’t have a prepared speech and almost convinced his audience he didn’t have much to say.

“My technique is to listen to you,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to learn.”
Despite Self’s reluctance to make grandiose pronouncements, he did reassure chamber members that Little Rock Air Force Base “will remain a cornerstone in the nation’s defense for the next 50 years,” no matter how the base re-alignment and closure process shakes out.

It’s still unclear how many more planes and people will move here after other bases are closed, but the general said this base will remain open and its mission will grow.

Self made it appear that it was dumb luck that got him where he is: A one-star general who is the commander of the largest C-130 base in the world. Imagine that.

He succeeded Brig. Gen. Joseph Reheiser as wing commander on Sept. 9.
“I got here at the same time as the humanitarian relief effort started,” Self said, pointing out that international flights are still coming in to help hurricane victims — a Ukranian plane landed at the base on Tuesday.

Russians have also sent aid to the base, which has become the international hub for such flights. He reminded his audience that years ago, no one would have predicted Russian planes landing here except in case of war.
Self said he’d never even been a C-130 pilot, which made you wonder how he ever got here.
It wasn’t until Self took questions from the audience that he let his guard down and admitted he’d done a few good things during his 27 years in the Air Force, among them three tours of the Pentagon, including the office of chief of staff and the defense secretary.

“It’s a torture chamber you go through,” he explained in his self-deprecating style.
So how did he move up in the ranks? He started out as a helicopter pilot who was later assigned to the presidential chopper detail at Andrews Air Force Base, which he said was pretty neat.
He went into flying helicopters because he liked the idea of combat rescue where he could save people’s lives. He has also flown C-17 and C-141B cargo planes.

On 9/11, he found himself at Fort Campbell, Ky., hundreds of miles from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, where he commanded the 621st Air Mobility Command.

“I couldn’t go back to my unit,” he said, because air traffic was grounded, but he drove for a couple of days and returned to his base, which soon found itself in the thick of things during the war in Afghanistan.
As director of mobility forces during Operation Enduring Free-dom, Self piloted C-17 cargo planes that dropped supplies over Afghanistan and opened up Khan-dahar Airport in January 2002.
If you keep asking him what else he’s done, Self will also tell you he spent five months in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Free-dom, taking part in the capture of Baghdad, which happened so fast that he just kept on driving in a convoy till he got to the capital.
“It was a life-changing experience,” the general said.

Self would rather talk about the young men and women who serve in the military, who make sacrifices every day in 120-degree weather, when gas masks fill with tears and his eyes, too, well up knowing what they have done for their country.

As for the general, his message to his audience was succinct: “My job is to defend you, and I take this job very seriously.”