Getting Personal: A love affair with the air
Stars and Stripes August 16, 2006
RAF MILDENHALL — Col. J.D. Clifton recently assumed command of the 100th Operations Group. The 47-year-old Strawberry Plains, Tenn., native arrived in the United Kingdom fresh off a tour in Germany, where he served as the deputy commander of the Air Mobility Operations Group.
You first served as an enlisted man. How did you get started as a pilot?
I was on a flight … and the pilots invited me up to the flight deck. We broke out of a bank of clouds and saw the runway come into view. I asked the pilots afterward, ‘So how did you find the runway?’ I went over that afternoon to sign up at the education office.
After I graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1983, I went to school and was sent to Fort Rucker, Ala., in November 1984. I stayed there flying Huey choppers for three years.
So how did you go from helicopters to refuelers?
I did my fixed-wing qualification after Fort Rucker and flew C-141s out of Charleston. That is where I met (100th Air Refueling Wing commander) Col. (Michael) Stough for the first time.
How did your last job at Ramstein Air Base prepare you to take command of the 100th Operations Group?
We had 3,200 people spread across five different time zones. We supported all of the AMC (Air Mobility Command) missions on this side of the world. It was a busy environment.
The KC-135 is the Air Force’s refueling workhorse, but the 100th is sometimes tapped to conduct missions not directly tied to air refueling. Can you explain?
The primary mission is always refueling, but we provide more and more support to the Air Force in other ways. Our planes are not designed to do big heavy hauling, but at times it does make sense to put stuff on our planes, especially if we are going someplace anyway.
What kind of nontraditional flight have you been on in your career?
I was doing an airdrop over the North Pole — bringing in heating oil — and I attached a letter to Santa from my son. I was hoping to get a letter back saying my letter had been delivered, but they did me one better. They called my 5-year-old son and said they had personally delivered the letter to Santa. That was something special.