11:40 PM PDT on Sunday, May 29, 2011

By MARK MUCKENFUSS
The Press-Enterprise

The new commander of the 4th Air Force headquartered at March Air Reserve Base said he is not overly concerned about the impending changes that have rattled some of his colleagues.

“Honestly, it’s much ado about nothing,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Kyle. “I see the role of this base increasing, not decreasing.”

The Numbered Air Force, a system of 28 operational units with different responsibilities, is due for a major realignment. The 4th Air Force oversees worldwide Air Force Reserve missions that involve airlift and refueling operations. Its 21,000 reservists serve in units located at bases from the East Coast to Hawaii.

Changes in the Air Force structure were due to be made public in April but that announcement has been pushed back to June or later. Speculation is that the changes could result in severe personnel reductions among the 200 4th Air Force personnel stationed at March.

Even if large-scale changes are made, Kyle said he doesn’t think March’s role will be diminished.

“The community needs to know that March ARB isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

Last year, an active-duty squadron joined the reserve forces at March, increasing the base’s capability for flying more missions.

Kyle, who took command of the 4th Air Force in March, said he and his personnel will take any changes in stride.

“The NAF’s not going anywhere,” Kyle said. “Everybody’s cutting, and it’s going to require some changes here. But, as far as our job, that isn’t going to change. This is government, for Pete’s sake. Nothing moves fast.”

Kyle, 53, said he and other Air Force personnel sometimes joke that the constant mantra of doing more with less has only one ultimate outcome.

“Soon we’ll be doing it all with nothing,” he said.

RESCUE MISSIONS

Kyle, who is originally from Virginia, is a 30-year veteran of the Air Force. He spent 17 years of his military service either in or directing rescue squadrons.

He was decorated for heroism on two occasions. The first involved helicopter rescue missions in Florida during 1993’s winter storm of the century. The second came from his role in refueling rescue helicopters during the Hekla volcano eruption in 2000.

Kyle was promoted to general in 2006. Before coming to March, he was inspector general for the Air Force Reserve Command at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. This is his first command assignment since 2006.

“I would have taken a commander’s job in Timbuktu,” Kyle said. “I’m happy.”

The only drawback, he said, is that his wife, Melissa, decided to remain at their home in Georgia for the two to three years he expects to be at March.

“I’ve been displaced by granddaughters in the pecking order,” he said.

His new assignment has meant not only new job responsibilities but new adventures in daily living as well. While an accomplished hand at the grill, Kyle says he is pretty much lost in the kitchen.

“I’ve had some pretty interesting attempts at dinner,” he said. Melissa “bought me a crock pot. Any moron can use a crock pot. But not this one.”

He said he’s also learning to handle some of the local golf courses.

“It only took me four rounds of golf to find out how fast the greens are here,” he said. He also discovered “that Californians don’t mind taking my money if I miss a putt.”

It was on a golf outing that Kyle saw one of the examples of local support for the base.

“I met a guy on the golf course,” he said. “I pulled out my business card and he said, ‘You just took command over there, right?’ I was surprised. I’ve been in places for years where they didn’t know me from Adam. The community is very much behind this air patch.”

FULL PLATE

Kyle replaced Maj. Gen. Eric Crabtree, who took an assignment in Washington, D.C., as head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. In an interview before his departure, Crabtree said that, if adopted, the restructuring of the Numbered Air Force would mean “a quantum change in the way the Air Reserve operates.”

Kyle was reluctant to talk about specific challenges and projects that may lie ahead.

He did say that one of the programs he is overseeing is a fuel reduction initiative. New techniques for increasing fuel efficiency are being introduced and there is a move to start using a corn-based alternative fuel.

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