The sprawling MacDill Air Force Base, which just last year celebrated its 70th birthday, is one of the prominent fixtures of the Tampa Bay area. On Friday, a group of rookies for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their first opportunity to visit the nearby base and, at the same time, help their team continue to show support for local military personnel.
Home to thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines, MacDill AFB houses the 6th Air Mobility Wing (6 AMW), which focuses on air refueling, airlift, and contingency response. In addition to the more than 3,000 personnel in the 6 AMW, the base has over 50 Mission Partners, including the United States Central Command and United States Special Operations Command, representing thousands more military members.
Through its longstanding support of the military, the Buccaneers organization enjoys a close relationship with the base and its personnel. The team hosts an annual Military Appreciation Game and collection drive and also takes part in game-day ticket programs, veterans' hospital visits and events with wounded warriors. Head Coach Greg Schiano urges the team's newest players to take part in that tradition whenever possible, and that led to Friday's trip to the base.
"That's one thing Coach Schiano has been preaching to us since we've been here, about the Buccaneer Way and the Buc Man," said cornerback Keith Tandy. "And part of that is giving back to the community in any way possible."
The visit started with touring a plane that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) flies into hurricanes to map out storms. The players examined the interior and several of them even sat in the cockpit to experience what it would be like to control such an aircraft.
The group was then taken to see a KC 135, a plane designed to refuel other planes in mid-flight. Even bigger than the NOAA aircraft, the KC 135 left the players suitably impressed.
"To get inside that jet and actually know what it's used for and see the conditions in there, it puts things in perspective for us," said Tandy.
The players also learned that they weren't the only ones who had to deal with the heat at their jobs. Without air conditioning, the temperature in the 135 can reach temperatures of 100 degrees or more, and like the Buccaneers, the plane's crew members have to wear heavy gear.
"The temperature inside for those guys, wearing all the gear and equipment they have to wear, it's pretty amazing what they do," said Tandy. "They have to hydrate the same way that we have to hydrate."
The players were also treated to an exercise with the base's military working dogs. After running through an obstacle course, the dogs showed off their ability to disarm and contain potential attackers. Players watched in awe as the "attacker," being simulated by one of the K-9 team members in a protective suit and mask, was chased down and brought to the ground by one of the dogs.
Emboldened by the demonstration, safety Sean Baker volunteered to experience such training firsthand. Baker was put into the protective suit and taught some basic safety rules, neither of which helped him get more than a few yards away before he was brought down by the dog. Baker's teammates laughed hysterically at his failed escape attempt, but he actually enjoyed the experience.
"It's a rush," said Baker. "You don't know when it's going to get you."
As the trip wound down with a tour of the base's on-site pharmacy, some of the rookies reflected on what the opportunity meant to them. Many of them have family in the military and have experience with the military lifestyle. For them, being able to come and support the troops is an important part of being a Buccaneer.
"My little brother is in the army right now," said tackle Desmond Wynn. "I know what they go through. I really do appreciate them so much more. They all motivate us and we motivate them."
The MacDill personnel were equally pleased to see the Bucs show their support for the military and their new community.
"It means a lot to the airmen, the troops, the soldiers, the sailors, the marines, the nearly 8,000 active duty members that are here on the MacDill Air Force Base," said Terry Montrose, the base's deputy chief of public affairs. "The fact that they take time out of their busy schedule to come here and give us a little glimpse of what they're all about, it means a lot to everybody here on base."