After two years in charge of Joint Base Charleston, Air Force Col. Richard McComb is rotating out, heading for new duties at the Pentagon.
On Thursday, the base held a change-of-command ceremony in which Col. Jeffrey “Pep” DeVore took over as commander of the 628th Air Base Wing.
Before his exit, McComb, 50, sat for a question-and-answer session that touched on base wear-and-tear after more than a decade of war, the ramifications of budget cuts, and whether Charleston is more of an Air Force town today than a Navy one.
His responses have been edited for length.
Q: After 12 years of war, how has the Charleston Air Force Base held up and how has it changed?
A: More airmen in the last decade have been deployed “outside the wire,” doing things they typically weren’t called on for during the Cold War. That includes hunting for explosives and taking part in the dangerous work on convoys.
“Our airmen are very focused on being war fighters,” he said. “Typically in the Air Force one may think it’s all about flying, and certainly the key mission of the Air Force is to fly, fight and win in airspace and cyberspace. But we do that from the ground up, and so that’s really one of the huge changes that has occurred.”
Another change McComb mentioned is that for the past three years, Charleston has operated under “Joint Base” status in which area installations fall under one all-encompassing umbrella.
Q: The Charleston community is fearful of Congress ordering a Base Realignment and Closure review. What do you see as the strengths of the base if it comes under congressional scrutiny?
A: McComb talked about the diversity of the area, naming the airlift, sealift and pre-positioned stocks kept here, ready for world deployment “in addition to this being a home of naval nuclear propulsion.”
When looked at in combination, Charleston represents a key asset for the Department of Defense, McComb added.
“I’d like to think that we’re positioned very well for continuing those missions here. I don’t see them being in danger, from my perspective.”
Q: Is there a single act of sacrifice you can point to, performed by an airman or other individual from Joint Base Charleston, that went above and beyond the call of duty? Something that really stands out?
A: McComb mentioned three individuals — an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) technician who lost a portion of his leg on a mission; a security force dog-handler assigned to a SEAL team who helped the team get away from a Taliban ambush; and a medical technician injured when the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a improvised explosive device (IED).
“The sacrifice of our airmen doing things like that,” he said, adding “not just the airmen, but also their families.”
Q: The U.S. is still at the beginning of unmanned drones taking over as a significant portion of the air-offense capabilities. Do you foresee a day when drones will take over some of the cargo- or personnel-moving duties as well? Is the Air Force going in that direction?
A: McComb said his background is not in aviation technology, but said even in small practice “we’re years from that.”
He added that the human element still needs to be a factor in the mission and “there’s always the desire to make sure you have a person in the loop.”
Q: In your view, what’s the best recruiting tool the Air Force has?
A: “The fact the Air Force is very committed to educating our airmen, to provide in them a skill, and really not just a one-time event but lifelong learning.”
Q: What will the Air Force look like in 10 years?
A: McComb said he can’t predict the future, “but I think we’re probably going to have to become leaner. The secretary of defense, I think, has made that pretty clear across the department.”
Q: Is Charleston now an “Air Force town,” as opposed to its previous reputation as a “Navy town”?
A: McComb pointed to the collection of installations here working in tandem. “I would say that Charleston is a ‘Joint Base’ town.”