Our USF Honors class went on a field trip this week which was really refreshing, considering it was my first class trip since middle school. Instead of meeting at regular Juniper-Poplar 1309, we gathered at MacDill Air Force Base‘s Visitor Center to be shuttled in the front gates for a tour. The windshield tour alone shocked me; I’ve never visited a military base and didn’t know what to expect. The grounds are amazingly vast, the buildings were beautiful, and the base is so much larger than I ever imagined. The hangers look incredible even though they’ve been in avid use for over fifty years. Everything, the buildings and especially the planes and jets, is constantly maintained by skilled and trained Air Force members. The community they’ve created for those living on the base is welcoming, comfortable and peaceful. Our tour guides and the Airmen we met were so kind, respectful, and willing to answer any questions.
After a tour of the base, we visited the flight simulator used in training pilots. Everything inside looked absolutely authentic and the amount of toggles, buttons, screens, dials, and numbers was overwhelming, along with the rather small quarters these men and women must spend hours in. I loved touring different buildings and departments. I never before appreciated how many different occupations are necessary in the Air Force. There’s a lot which must be prepared for a long flight with a VIP guest such as a four star general on a diplomatic mission, including delicious food, the proper visas, flight paths, hotel accommodations, rental cars, strict time line planning and more. There are many more tasks and occupations I’m too naïve to comprehend.
In the latter half of the tour we saw an up close KC-135 receiving its incredibly thorough maintenance check from tip to tip. The plane was ENORMOUS. I felt nervous just standing next to the jet engines because I pictured myself getting sucked in. Next, we were spoken to about the in-air re-fueling which I never realized the Air Force could do. It astonished me that planes get about thirty feet apart, traveling at surprising speeds from 200-400 knots per hour, and manage to line up a pipe that couldn’t have had a diameter much larger than 10 inches.
The “EOD” or Explosive Ordinance Disposal was incredibly educational and interesting as we learned about their occupational task of disarming “IEDs,” or Improvised Explosive Devices (also known as road side bombs). We got to see one of those impressive robots, whose name I forgot because I was busy staring, with cameras and a strong grip. They also showed us the ridiculously heavy, thick, hot, protective suit they wear to go disarm an IED. The helmet alone felt like the weight of a bowling ball. One of our classmates was lucky enough to wear it and have to try and stand up from the ground in it; not an easy task. Overall the tour was incredibly eye-opening to someone as ignorant about the military as me. I’d go back in a heartbeat because I’m sure we only scratched the surface in a few hours.