The general in charge of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Command, two of the military agencies most responsible for protecting the mainland United States, toured Miami International Airport Tuesday at the invitation of the airport’s recently appointed chief, Emilio Gonzalez.
The visit from the high-profile military commander, Gen. Charles Jacoby, reflects Gonzalez’s extensive connections in the military and the federal government: his resume includes stints as a U.S. Army colonel and the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Gonzalez said these connections were a significant factor in his hiring as director of the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department, as they will help him “elevate the visibility of the airport.”
“I’m able to tap into those organizations and those individuals who I’ve worked with in the past, to our benefit, without having to go through some laborious bureaucratic tunnel,” he added.
The office of the mayor of Miami-Dade County acknowledged that Gonzalez’s military and political connections were important in the decision to hire him.
“His military background had a lot of things that were appealing to the mayor,” said Deputy Mayor Jack Osterholt.
While there were no specific agreements on future collaborations between MIA and Jacoby’s commands, Gonzalez said he hoped the Miami-Dade Aviation Department could benefit from military activity in the future, such as air shows and training exercises at its five airports.
“What I wanted to do was expose him and his staff to who we are here, then go back and explore what opportunities we can develop,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez and Jacoby, who met when they worked together in the late 1990s at the Doral-based U.S. Southern Command, toured the airport’s inner workings with an entourage of military experts and airport police.
“Incredible work is being done here,” Jacoby said. “This is the number one cargo airport [in the United States], number two passenger airport, so if you really want to learn how the team is adapting to the challenges of the future, this is a good place to come.”
As head of the North American Aerospace Command (NORAD), Jacoby would be responsible for providing military support to MIA in the event of serious aerial threats.
Tuesday’s tour included some of the airport’s security operations, which work to ensure the safety of passengers and cargo well before the need for military intervention.
“We provide the last line of the defense,” Jacoby said. “What I saw today was the front line.”
Among the facilities the general visited were the import operations of LAN Cargo, a major carrier of perishable goods between the United States and Latin America, where Jacoby observed Customs and Border Patrol’s meticulous inspections of shipments of cut flowers entering the United States.
As Jacoby’s entourage left LAN’s refrigerated warehouse to visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s control tower, they were beset by sudden, heavy rain. A member of Gonzalez’s staff apologized to the general for the weather.
“No, this is perfect,” Jacoby replied. “It’s got to work in bad weather, too.”