552nd ACW commander leaving 'home' for 12th AF

  • Published
  • By Darren D. Heusel
  • Tinker Public Affairs
On July 1, Col. Jay R. Bickley and his immensely supportive wife, Karla, will bid farewell to Tinker Air Force Base -- a place they've called home for a number of years -- and start embracing their new roles at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Ariz.

Succeeding Colonel Bickley will be Col. David M. Gaedecke.

Colonel Bickley will become the vice commander of 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern Command, while Colonel Gaedecke comes to Tinker having served as deputy director of operations, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.

"Karla and I have talked and this is our wing," Colonel Bickley said in a recent exit interview. "We grew up in this wing. We were both assigned to the wing during our first assignments here...to be able to come back as a squadron commander and then as the wing commander, it was the dream assignment.

"It's been the culmination of a lot of memories that will carry with us through the years," he added.

Colonel Bickley said what he and Karla will miss most about Oklahoma are the people.

"Tinker definitely holds a special place in our hearts," he said. "It's been such an integral part of our professional lives. Our youngest son, Justin, was born here at the old hospital. This is a great community. The support of the people here is unbelievable."

Colonel Bickley said the community support is "nothing new" to him and Karla, because "the community has always been a great supporter of Tinker and the 552nd ACW."

"As a wing commander, we have a welcome obligation to engage with the community and allow them to share in our mission and ensure that they understand what we contribute to the defense of the nation," he said.

Colonel Bickely said the people in Oklahoma love the military and would continue to do so regardless of whether  or not Tinker was the state's largest single-site employer, pumping nearly $4 billion into the local economy annually.

"It isn't that we coexist and find ways to get along," he said. "We're fully entrenched in the community. It's a special place. I can't really speak to other communities because Tinker has been my optic. All I can say is it's truly phenomenal."

Colonel Bickley said what he will miss most about being the commander are the Airmen in his charge.

"When you see the tremendous sacrifice and the tremendous work ethic, and the tremendous pride that our Airmen have, it's a job they do and the understanding of what the 552nd ACW brings to the fight, that's really a special thing to watch," he said. "I will tell you it renews and rejuvenates your sense of confidence in the future."

Colonel Bickley said that with all the bad news, the many issues and challenges facing society, it's refreshing when he and 552nd ACW Command Chief Master Sgt. Avery Woolridge drive out to the work spaces and meet with people "who have a phenomenal attitude and are fired up about what they do."

"Serving alongside the men and women of the 552nd ACW is really what I'll miss the most about this job," he said.

Colonel Bickley said the credit for everything he accomplished while serving as commander goes to the wing. He said he's most proud of the fact that the wing was able to return to the readiness level it was prior to sequestration.

"When I look at where we are readiness-wise now and the things we're able to accomplish down range and the real relevance our air control squadrons bring to the fight, it's awesome," he said. "It's great to see."

Colonel Bickley said another source of pride for him was keeping the Block 40/45 upgrade on track.

"We're very close to being able to deploy the weapons system down range in the fall and that'll be a cool thing to see," he said. "Keeping a new modification to a weapons system on track like that requires a lot of attention and a lot of dedicated people to get the ball moving in one direction and I think we did that."

Colonel Bickley said the ability to keep the Block 40/45 upgrade on track "was a Team Tinker effort" involving the 552nd ACW, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, the System Program Office at Hanscom, AFB, Mass., and the prime contractor at Boeing.
"We were able to bring all those folks to the table on multiple occasions and I'll always be proud of how we were able to keep it moving forward," he said.

Colonel Bickley said he'd like to be remembered "as someone who had balance in ensuring we could perform the mission and also in taking care of our Airmen and their families.

"If it wasn't for the mission, none of us would be here," he said. "But, we can't perform the mission if we don't take care of people. I think we have an obligation to do that. Karla has worked tirelessly to take care of our military families and to ensure they get the things they need and deserve. I would hope that's the impression we left - that we've increased the readiness level and we've built a number of family programs to care for our Airmen.

"We have always strived to ensure that we send our Airmen off (on deployments) with dignity and then give them a proper welcome when they come home so they feel appreciated and know what they're doing is extremely important," he continued.
Colonel Bickley said the challenge facing the wing in the future will be comparable to what it is today as far as keeping up with the demand for the E-3 "Sentry" Airborne Warning and Control System and balancing that demand with limited capabilities and resources.

"Figuring out what the replacement AWACS capability will be in the future is the key," he said. "The wing will undoubtedly play a role and we will definitely need to get that right. We'll continue to face the challenge of balancing the need for the weapons system with the capability we're able to provide."

In light of increased global threats such as ISIS, Russia and N. Korea, Colonel Bickley said those are "tough challenges our Air Force is facing every day and tough decisions our senior leaders have to make based on priorities and limited resources."

As for his new assignment, Colonel Bickley said "anytime you get an opportunity to move to a different command with different missions, you should take advantage of it."
"It's an exciting mission and one I'm looking forward to learning more about," he said. "Being able to assist (12th AF Commander Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland) in his vision and his goals will be a great adventure, I'm sure."

Colonel Bickley waxed philosophically in signing off, saying, "What we'll miss in leaving Tinker is you often hear people say, 'Well, it's just business. It's not personal.' But, I would argue that command is a very personal thing. I think if you do it right, you are very emotionally engaged in the wing or the organization you command. Karla and I have definitely gotten to that point.

"We also know the wing is in tremendous hands with Colonel Gaedecke," he said. "He's got all the right tools. He's got all the right experience. He's got all the right compassion and leadership capabilities to take the wing to well beyond where I could have taken it and it'll be fun to watch as he takes it to great heights."