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Jacksonville native Gen. Craig R. McKinley retires after historic career
By Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (October 19, 2012) – Gen. Craig R. McKinley spent the past 14 years serving in the nation’s capital, but he came back home to Northeast Florida Friday to celebrate his nearly 40-year military career with the people he served with the longest.
“On behalf of all the men and women who make up our National Guard – about 460,000 nationally – I’m deeply honored to be back in my home state of Florida and honored to have the commander and chief of the Florida National Guard retire me today,” said McKinley.
Flanked by his friends, family and peers, McKinley received the Governor’s Medal of Merit from Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cross from The Adjutant General of Florida, Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., during a formal retreat ceremony on the parade field of the historic St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine.
McKinley, a Florida National Guardsman, made history at the beginning of this year when he became the first National Guardsman to serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was not the first time, however, that he set a “first.” McKinley was also the first National Guardsman to head the National Guard Bureau as a four-star general. He also made history in 1991 when he took command of the Florida National Guard’s Fighter Interceptor Group, becoming the youngest group or wing commander in Florida Air National Guard history.
The elevation of the Chief of the National Guard bureau to a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a significant step in recognizing the importance of the National Guard to the safety and security of the nation.
“It is a great tribute to the Senate Armed Services Committee for realizing these last 12 years of men and women in the National Guard serving alongside our active components to give us an opportunity to be at the table where decisions are made,” said McKinley.
McKinley received his commission in 1974 as a distinguished graduate of the ROTC program at Southern Methodist University. He joined the Florida National Guard in 1980 as a T-23 and F-106 alert pilot. He has served in numerous assignments in flying and operations, as well as command positions at group, wing, sector and field operating agency levels.
During his celebrated career, McKinley rose through the ranks to prestigious achievements, but it was his 18 years in Florida that formed the foundation for his future successes. Many in the Florida Air National Guard today served and flew alongside McKinley and remember his contributions and legacy in the organization.
“This is an historic day for the Florida National Guard,” said Titshaw. “We are all very honored and appreciate the fact that General McKinley chose to come back and retire where his heart is and where his root is back in here in Florida.”
Like many who retire after a long and successful career, the day held mixed feelings for McKinley.
“It’s a tough day, it’s a bittersweet moment,” said McKinley. “But all of us know when we put on the uniform there will come a day when we have to say goodbye. Today’s that day for me and I couldn’t have been more proud to be here.”