Hundreds of people, including the National Guard’s senior leadership, past and present, gathered here under the summer sun July 27 to dedicate a lasting tribute to retired Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the 26th Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
National Guard Airmen and Soldiers, contractors, and community leaders dedicated the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s 46,871-square-foot facility in McKinley’s honor with speeches, music, tours, an unveiling, a ribbon cutting and a fly-over by the 134th Air Refueling Wing.
The dedication included remarks from McKinley; from Col. Kerry Lovely, commander of the TEC; from Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, director of the Air National Guard and from Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the current Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“Quite frankly, we stand on the shoulders of the great men and women who have gone before,” McKinley said. “That’s the only reason we exist, and the reason you keep giving back is that you can never repay the debt, and I am so honored and privileged to have this opportunity to be here today.”
McKinley is the National Guard’s first four-star general and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spoke to similar honors for leaders who led the National Guard into the 21st Century.
“I hope everybody understands that this is about you, not me … it’s about us,” McKinley added. “It’s about our service; it’s about our nation … It’s all about that.”
The speeches and music drifted with the midday breeze through the crowd. Airman Leadership School students formed ranks to honor the general, alongside students from the Marine Corps, who were training on campus.
The modern facility’s three connected buildings were constructed from August 2014 to January 2017 and are situated central to the earlier brick buildings (built between 1988 and 1992). The classroom building offers free Wi-Fi, state-of-the-art projection, sound systems, and plans for fiber optic conference connectivity. The two dormitory buildings add 97 single-occupancy rooms.
While the dedication formally honors the facility as Craig R. McKinley Hall, at the time of the ceremony it had already filled with professional continuing education and workshops, from its completion.
“As I talk to you today, there are 30,000 men and women in the National Guard deployed on every continent, in every combatant command,” said General Lengyel. “… and they have never been better trained, they have never been better equipped, they have never been better respected, and they have never been more ready than they are today, and I attribute that to many of the leaders who are sitting in this audience.”
Gen. Rice, the Air National Guard director, said that the leaders in attendance also held a debt of gratitude to McKinley and his wife. “You all brought us to a place to where we are proud of our heritage; we are proud of our history … of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are looking forward to where we are going.”
“We are very proud, with great admiration, to put your name on the side of this building and represent the best in all of us,” Rice said.
McKinley is currently the national chair for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) for the Secretary of Defense. He served as chief of the National Guard Bureau from 2008 to 2012 and obtained the rank of general during that time (the military grade of O-10). Before that, McKinley served as the director of the Air National Guard (DANG), from 2006 to 2008.
Memorialization officials pointed out McKinley’s time as DANG and his support in enhancing enlisted professional military education (EPME) at the TEC through the relocation of the Academy of Military Science officer commissioning program to the Air Force’s program at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. (More than 14,600 officers gained their commissions before the 2009 relocation.) The integration allowed for a shared learning experience as well as allowed TEC to enhance its EPME efforts. (About 40,000 NCO academy students, as well as 20,000 Airman leadership school students, graduated since 1968.)
McKinley earned his commission in 1974 as a distinguished ROTC graduate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Among his other service accomplishments: assignments with the Florida Air National Guard, to include command of the 125th Fighter Wing and the Southeast Air Defense Sector. He commanded 1st Air Force from 2002-2004. He flew more than 4,000 flight hours with the T-38, F-106, F-16, and F-15, as well as the C-130 and C-131. (He is rated a Command Pilot.)