Col. Scott DeThomas officially took command Friday of MacDill Air Force Base, which he will lead during a crucial time in its history.
During his time at the base — usually a two-year tour — DeThomas, 47, will learn whether the new KC-46A air refueling tankers will be coming to begin replacing the aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers.
He will be in charge as the bulk of U.S. forces begin leaving Afghanistan and U.S. military might shifts emphasis to the Pacific Rim. And he will oversee a base and a wing coping with the new realities of fiscal austerity.
DeThomas takes over the MacDill command from close friend Col. Lenny Richoux. He said he's prepared for change.
"That is the business we are in," he said. "My job will be to that buffer and come up with new plans and new ideas to get us through the turmoil that comes. It is Leadership 101."
DeThomas demurred at offering specifics, saying that any change he enacts will be spooled out over time.
"While I have some ideas and vision, I will be a little slow to change a lot initially," he said. "Why? We have a great organization here. This wing is the premier airlift wing in the Air Force. As the new guy, the last thing you want to do is come in and break something that is not broken."
For DeThomas, the road to MacDill started with a stint in the Army National Guard, as a young man from Woonsocket, R.I., trying to earn money for college.
He said he wasn't ready for college but was ready for a life in the military and enlisted in the Air Force. He flew combat missions over Taliban-controlled sections of Afghanistan in 2001 and later worked in several planning jobs inside the Pentagon, including as military assistant to Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.
His most recent mission — a tour in Kuwait overseeing the withdrawal of forces and equipment from Iraq as commander of the 387th Air Expeditionary Group — earned him a Bronze Star.
It was "during a very challenging time, the withdrawal of 40,000 troops and hundreds of thousands of tons of equipment," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsey, commander of the 18th Air Force, which oversees the 6th Air Mobility Wing.
Richoux received the Legion of Merit during the ceremony and was lauded by Ramsey and others for his tenure at MacDill.
"He did an absolutely outstanding job leading the airmen here the last two years at this massive base," Ramsey said as he stood on the stage set up in the front of Hangar 3. "Look at what the 6th Air Mobility Wing has done over the last year…continuing to support operations in Southwest Asia, counter drug missions in South and Central America, earthquake relief in Japan and coalition and NATO operations in Libya last year that saved tens of thousands of innocent lives from a very extreme regime."
Ramsey also praised Richoux for his efforts to take care of the airmen and families on base and his outreach efforts to the Tampa Bay community.
Sunday, Richoux and his family leave Tampa, headed for Belgium, where he will serve on the staff of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe as special assistant to the commander of U.S. forces in Europe.
As commander of the wing and the base — home to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and more than 30 other mission partners — DeThomas is essentially the mayor of a small city.
He realizes there is a lot to learn, especially about the KC-135 refueling tanker, the mainstay of MacDill Air Force operations.
In October, he will head to Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma to get to know the Stratotanker, 16 of which are housed at MacDill.