Dyess wing commander Starr proud to lead the base
By JOHN MANGALONZO | Abilene Reporter-News, Texas | Published: March 13, 2014
Col. Michael Bob Starr’s goals in his military career are to solve tough problems and invest in future leaders.
Starr, the new commander of the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, said “being something,” like achieving general rank, isn’t part of his goal.
“I never had being a wing commander as my goal,” Starr said Wednesday. “I’m delighted I got the opportunity, not that I didn’t want it, but it’s just that I didn’t pursue it as a goal in itself.”
The colonel had a calm but confident demeanor when he met with the media Wednesday inside the base. He spoke of having transparency and working with the community to represent Dyess the best he can.
His love for God and country came through the Reserve Officers Training Corps in high school, but he was disappointed when told he couldn’t become a pilot because of his 20-40 vision.
Later in the Air Force Academy, however, Starr was told he didn’t have to have perfect eyesight as long as it could be corrected to 20-20 and if he graduated from the academy. So a pilot he became.
“I always believed that we are created free, and if there is evil in the world, that should be confronted,” Starr said.
Brig. Gen. Glen VanHerck relinquished command to Starr, a B-1 instructor with more than 2,000 flying hours, in February. VanHerck took command of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
Being stationed in Abilene is not a first for Starr. He was first assigned to Dyess in October 1997 when he was a student in B-1 initial qualification. In two other Dyess assignments, Starr has been flight commander for the 28th Bomb Squadron, deputy chief of Wing Standards and Evaluation for the 7th Operations Group, director of operations for the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron and commander of the 7th Operations Support Squadron.
Among Starr’s assignments was service for part of 2003 at Prince Sultan Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia and as a deputy chief in a strategic division of the multinational force in Baghdad from July 2007 to June ‘08.
Starr last left Dyess in June 2011 to be a vice commander of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
“One of the great things about Dyess Air Force Base is that this is the center of the B1 universe and I’m probably biased but I think the B1 is a cool plane,” Starr said. “All roads lead to Abilene if you’re in the B1 world.”
Dyess is no stranger in weathering federal budget cuts, and Starr knows some hard decisions may be passed down.
In this latest round of possible cuts, the government proposes a decrease in the Air Force budget that could cut 20,400 personnel in 2014, including 16,700 active-duty personnel. The total spending would be $8.7 billion less in 2015 than planned spending this year.
“Sometimes we have to make tough decisions on our support and those areas in the base not directly tied to operations, particularly combat operations,” Starr said. “Yes, we have been shielded from any drastic infrastructure or personnel cuts but the budget cuts are still there and they are real and are forcing us to deal with less money that what we used to have.”
However, the Pentagon budget continues to fund B1-B modernization, which include cockpit upgrades called the Integrated Battle Station.
“It’s (Integrated Battle Station) tying us into what you can think of as an Internet in the sky for combat airplanes,” Starr said. “Right now the B1 has a very good defensive system and I can tell when I am being threatened. What this integrated data link will do is allow me to see the threats that every other airplane at the same time so together we can build some kind of composite picture of what our adversary is presenting us with and help us deal with that a lot more effectively.
“The warrior with the most information wins,” he added.
A lot has changed in Abilene since Starr first came to Dyess in 1997, and the colonel noted one of the biggest shifts in history happened after 9/11.
“Back then, the B1 had not yet been used in combat: It had a lot of promise but had never been called on,” he said. “Since 9/11, we’ve been called on continuously, so the constant state of combat has been the biggest change.”
Starr is serious about his role not only in representing Dyess to the community, but also leading “4,500 awesome airmen here, too.”
“I grew up in a community that never had the chance to actually prove what their planes are capable of doing in actual combat conditions,” Starr said. “Now we have aviators, we have a whole generation of B1 aviators who have more combat time than they have peace time and I am proud to represent them, to lead them and to tell their story to other people.”