The choice of Air Force Gen. Patrick K. Gamble to become the new president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Railroad was something of a stunning surprise. A great and welcome surprise, it needs to be quickly said.
Admittedly, railroads have not been his business for the last 34 years, but he's no stranger to moving things from one place to another, at supersonic speed, and to managing complex operations and big numbers of people. You don't get to be a four-star general just because you like the perks.
You achieve that high military rank by being a no-nonsense sort of guy, one blessed with keen judgment who knows his job better than anybody else, who can handle heavy obligations, who knows how to give orders and how to delegate responsibility, and who knows what it means to run a tight ship.
For a long time, we have said editorially that the railroad, so long as it remains an agency of the state government, should be in the hands of a professional railroader -- somebody who knew the business of moving traffic and freight, someone who knew how to manage safety and schedule maintenance, somebody who knew finance and fiscal control.
An expert in politics, we said, didn't fill the whole bill.
We clearly didn't think of the big picture, as the members of the railroad board did in this case. They went outside the box, and we commend them.
The 55-year-old Gamble is well qualified to quickly learn the ropes involved in railroading, and he brings to the assignment a whole basketful of other talents that will take the railroad to new levels of operating efficiency and successes.
The new railroad boss is a commander, through and through. He knows the meaning of command. He knows how to command.
Gen. Gamble, the top military officer in Alaska from August 1996 to November 1997, will come here in mid-March, after his retirement from the Air Force becomes effective -- closing a career that began as an Air Force ROTC cadet at Texas A&M University in 1967.
He's stepping down from one of the top Air Force jobs in the entire world. Since June of 1998, Gamble has been commander of the Pacific Air Forces, and with that assignment also has served as Air Component commander for the U.S. Pacific Command and as executive director of the Pacific Air Combat operations staff.
He was a superb commander when he was at Elmendorf, and he and his wife, Ailese, fell in love with Alaska. They made this their official residence, they bought a home here, they made it clear they planned to come back when their Air Force days were ended.
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