Major general comes home
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 30, 2008 1:47 PM
As a young boy, William Holland had no aspirations of climbing the ranks of the United States Air Force.
The Nahunta native never sneaked down by the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base tarmac to get a look at aircraft taking off and touching down.
He saw himself as just another "farm boy."
But when a high school counselor told him he could pay off college with service to his nation, it felt right.
"I just wanted to go to school. She said, 'Well, there's this thing called an ROTC scholarship. You'll have to serve in the Air Force if you get it,'" Holland said. "I grew up knowing that the Air Force Base was here and I saw the airplanes flying at times, but the base was something that was mystic. I'm an old country farm boy. The base had a perimeter ... you had to be something special to get on."
He had no problem getting access this week.
In fact, for the past few days, Holland has been the highest ranking airman inside the gates - returning to his hometown installation for his first "official visit" since becoming a major general and vice commander of the 9th Air Force.
"I don't like to say that I'm visiting," he said. "This is home."
Still, his trip was more than a social stop.
Holland toured facilities, spoke with airmen and base leadership and will take his findings back to the U.S. Central Command.
"You don't have to motivate these folks. They are fired up and ready to go," he said. "I looked them in the eye and I asked them, 'What is it that your Air Force needs to provide you?' That's my job as a senior leader, to try to figure out what they need and provide that."
One of the issues the general addressed was the nation's aging fleet of military aircraft -- a byproduct, he said, of 17 straight years of conflict -- and the burden it puts on the shoulders of young airmen.
"That's difficult," Holland said. "Infrastructure deteriorates over time.
"If you don't keep it up, if you don't replace it, the people that are having to use it are tasked to keep that up more than they are to do their job."
But Seymour Johnson's own F-15E, he added, is better off than others.
In fact, during his own deployment last year, the general saw firsthand the capabilities of the 4th's assets.
"The F-15 has a great combat capability, and by combat, I don't mean just delivering weapons," Holland said. "Day in and day out they do more in their mission set than just deliver weapons ... They are providing that blanket of security for those forces who are on the ground and may be in harm's way. And they are doing a magnificent job."
Still, he admits that the Air Force always has an eye on making improvements.
"The AF has a strategy of recapitalizing. Our fighter force is not quite as old ... but it's still aging pretty well and we've used it awfully hard," he said. "We'll continue to look at ways of modernizing, improving capabilities as well as maintainability ... But I think the F-15E's home at Seymour Johnson is relatively stable right now. We have made some improvement on the aircraft and we'll continue to do that."
The fleet might be aging, he added, but the airmen keeping those birds in the air are only growing stronger with time.
So he also found time during his stay to talk to young men and women and their leadership about Team Seymour's performance in the "Area of Responsibility," about their "incredible" efforts in support of the Global War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"The training that the individual airmen have is unsurpassed," he said. "To come back here and see them on their home turf, it's kind of funny. I was just over there with you. We're awfully proud of them."
And his hope is that members of the communities surrounding the base, airmen and their families are proud, too.
"This wing has been actively engaged for 17 years. It's a strain," he said. "It's a strain on the equipment, it's a strain on the base, it's a strain on the family. But hopefully we have educated our people enough to know what to expect, No. 1, and that we try to take care of them, No. 2. You let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing. This community ... has always done that."
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