Gen. McKinley retires after historic National Guard career Published Oct. 26, 2012 By Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens Florida National Guard ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Gen. Craig R. McKinley spent the past 14 years serving in the nation's capital, but returned home to St. Augustine, Fla., Oct. 19 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," McKinley said. McKinley, a Florida National Guardsman, served as the 26th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, where he was responsible for ensuring that more than half a million Army and Air National Guard members - including more than 10,000 Soldiers and Airmen in the Wisconsin National Guard - were accessible, capable and ready to protect the homeland and to provide combat resources to the Army and Air Force. He 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 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," McKinley said. 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 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," Titshaw said. "We are all very honored and appreciate the fact that Gen. McKinley chose to come back and retire where his heart is and where his root is back 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," McKinley said. "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."