Cheney's brief stop at Mildenhall got special attention from airmen
RAF MILDENHALL — Secrecy is often the norm around military facilities. Airmen involved in an extraordinary mission had even tighter lips than normal last week.
“I didn’t say a word, not even to my wife,” Tech. Sgt. Jason Milam said of Vice President Dick Cheney’s two brief layovers at Mildenhall. “That’s the way it has to be done.”
The air traffic controller was one of dozens of people involved in supporting Cheney’s stopover, including security forces members and aircraft support airmen.
Cheney’s plane first stopped at RAF Mildenhall on Dec. 17 on his way to a surprise visit in Iraq. He dropped in on troops there to thank them for their work after the elections on Dec. 15 and review the reconstruction and security work being done in the fledgling democracy.
Cheney then visited other locations across the Middle East and Asia before returning to RAF Mildenhall in the early morning hours of Dec. 21 to service his plane before its final leg across the Atlantic Ocean.
Master Sgt. James Hicks, 40, of Orlando, Fla., served as the assistant tower chief controller during Cheney’s return trip to the United Kingdom.
“I wouldn’t say it was stressful,” Hicks said a few days after the mission. “There was just a lot more coordination involved and a lot more security.”
The biggest twist was working hand in hand with the Secret Service, which dispatched an agent to the tower during the layover.
“The Secret Service and their command was key,” Hicks said. “They told us exactly what they needed and we provided it.”
First Lt. Christopher Morrison, 28, was a liaison between the security forces and the Secret Service.
“The Secret Service ran the show,” he said. “My role was more of a contingent one, in case something occurred.”
Morrison said the security forces had 10 additional posts on duty for the visit — roughly 15 airmen.
During the visit, the security forces airmen with K-9 duty were put under the command of the Secret Service as they swept the plane and the area around the aircraft for bombs.
“We do it like that so there are not any chain-of-command issues,” he said. “The Secret Service agents were all very professional and the operation went smoothly.”
Cheney’s aircraft touched down about 20 minutes shy of 3 a.m. and its visit lasted no more than an hour.
“Once he was parked, the ramp came alive and was just buzzing with people,” Hicks said. “It was neat to watch because it was like an orchestra.”
Milam, 33, of Freemont, Calif., who had a bird’s-eye view of the action, described the airmen’s refueling the plane, servicing the lavatories and restocking the food and water supply as “synchronized ballet.”
The base public affairs office snapped a few pictures of the event and provided a mobile media station so the press corps traveling with Cheney could file their stories, according to public affairs specialist Matt Tulis.
Cheney’s visit wasn’t the Mildenhall airmen’s first support of a distinguished guest. Earlier in the year, first lady Laura Bush and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers had brief layovers at the base, Hicks said.
“Mildenhall is a hub for this type of stuff because of our ability to handle just about any aircraft,” Hicks said.