WINDERMERE — A desire to fly and a journey of more than 25 years has led to the promotion of West Orange High School graduate and Windermere resident Harlie Bodine to colonel in the Air Force, which became official with a ceremony at 4 p.m. Jan. 24, at St. Luke’s Methodist Church on Apopka-Vineland Road.
Major Gen. Ken Wilsbach, director of operations for U.S. Central Command, directed the promotion ceremony.
In July, Bodine will begin his assignment as commander of the 611th Air and Space Operations Center at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. This center consists of three divisions developing directives, plans and procedures for Alaskan combat and support forces assigned to the Pacific Air Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. These divisions lead rescue operations, provide tactical support, maintain air sovereignty and conduct air defense operations for the region.
A LONG JOURNEY
From his start with the Air Force as a cadet in the Air Force Academy, Bodine has had plenty of trials and travels in the military. When he first reported on June 29, 1989, for six weeks of basic cadet training before starting the school year early, his top goal was to be a pilot, he said.
“Once you go through the decision of military aviation, the AF offered the best flying education and all that,” Bodine said.
But when Bodine graduated in 1993, he did not see things the same way.
“It has been four long, miserable, ridiculous, stupid years,” he wrote upon graduation. “I came here wanting to be an aeronautical engineer, all-American baseball player, wing commander and fly an F-16. Well, here I am four years later a human factors major, playing flickerball, projects officer and flying a T-41. The only thing this place has taught me is how to make friends.”
“I was commissioned as second lieutenant on June 2, 1993,” Bodine said. “I was stationed in Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, South Dakota. I was there about a year-and-a-half and entered specialized training, graduating that in June 1996.”
He continued his training at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base near Goldsboro, North Carolina, and received a promotion June 2, 1995, to first lieutenant, as well as to captain exactly two years later, he said.
“I subsequently picked up pilot training, which I began in Columbus, Mississippi, at Columbus AFB, and completed that training in Panama City,” he said. “In my undergraduate navigator training, I qualified as a backseat navigator using weapons. It was later when I trained to be a pilot.”
After he completed that training at Tyndall Air Force Base, Bodine was stationed in Anchorage in 1999, where he flew for three years before returning to Tyndall as an instructor through 2005, he said.
“In October 2003, I was promoted to major,” Bodine said. “In 2008, we were restationed to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. During my time there, I volunteered for the new MC-12 program for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for Iraq and Afghanistan.”
That program was named after the modified twin-engine aircraft used in the operations.
“I was selected as director of operations and stationed in Afghanistan in 2010,” Bodine said. “I returned to Japan in 2011 and moved to the air force base in Sacramento in summer 2011.”
In summer 2013, Bodine was restationed to Suffolk, Virginia, for the joint staff for a year, and then he was selected to attend senior development education last summer, he said. He is currently receiving that education from Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
“We’ve been all over the globe with a lot of training — I’ve been very fortunate,” he said.
The most exciting highlights for Bodine have been during three combat tours: two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
“Those are obviously the most memorable moments of leading airmen in combat,” he said. “That’s the ultimate honor. Second to that was being part of the whole MC-12 program. It was high pressure. To be able to sustain that program through its life made a real difference for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
With combat tours came grief, as well.
“Burying friends was absolutely the hardest thing,” Bodine said. “Attending a funeral when someone pays the ultimate sacrifice is the hardest thing to do. But when it’s someone you’ve flown with, served with, hung out with, that was absolutely heartbreaking.”
“The men and women who volunteer to serve our nation are amazing,” he said. “To have the privilege to lead and command them is by far the biggest honor that can be bestowed on anyone, next to parenting. I say you’re a parent, a counselor, mentor, a psychologist, an accountant — all these things to these airmen — and just the relationships you build with them and the things they sacrifice so honorably and never miss a beat, never expect anything to occur, just answering the call of duty, is amazing. To be a commander of that is what motivates me to continue to serve today.”
And although recognition during promotion ceremonies is welcome, the idea is more to honor those who have supported him along the way, Bodine said.
“Definitely the No. 1 thing is the opportunity to say thank you, obviously primarily to my family to support me and enable this to happen, the driving force behind it all, and then of course my friends and family,” he said. “The general speaking and my wife have been lifelong friends. He’s been a mentor since I met him. To say thanks to people who have been there since the first day is really the reason we do promotion ceremonies. Yes, you want to honor the individual and rank, but it’s really to say thanks to the people who made it all happen.”
Thanking his family has become most important to Bodine.
“I came into the military, and it’s not what I envisioned as most rewarding, like going to exotic places or serving in combat, but at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “When you’ve been around as long as I have, you learn and get a perspective of what’s really important.”
Bodine said he wanted to thank all of his family and friends for their support throughout his life, especially his wife, Lianna Schuyten; children, Daniel, Hendrikje, Anneke and Annalise; and parents, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Byron Sutton, Norma Sutton, Harlie Bodine and Susan Bodine.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].