REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Tennessee Valley community really didn't give Col. Jay Macklin and his family much choice.

Once they got here in mid-2012, and got settled in Madison, the community showed its true colors -- "red, white and blue" -- and the Macklins knew they had found their forever home.

So, with retirement set for Jan. 10 at 9 a.m. in Bob Jones Auditorium, Macklin, the chief of staff for the Aviation and Missile Command, is looking forward to enjoying the civilian life this area has to offer.

"I really love the people here," Macklin said. "The area has been really great. From the moment we got here, we noticed that this place was just a little bit different than any other place we've been. The entire Tennessee Valley truly supports Redstone Arsenal and it makes the military stationed here feel special.

"That made me realize that this is the kind of place where I wanted to sink in roots and become a member of the community."

With a daughter at Auburn University, and children participating in extracurricular activities as students at James Clemens High School and Liberty Middle School in Madison, Macklin and his wife Macie, who works in the offices of James Clemens High, are getting plenty of opportunities to be a part of their community.

"I can't think of a better place to raise a family," Macklin said. "The Army life is tough. It's very difficult on kids because of the constant moving around. My family and I love the Army. I would not trade the experience for anything and neither would they. But all things considered, we're in a good place here. Although retirement is a tough decision, my family and I believe this is the right time and the right place."

Finding that "forever" community means a lot to a career aviator who has spent several years away from his family. With combat deployments to Operation Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 26 years of service, Macklin said he felt it was time to take off his Soldier boots.

"It's not often that you get a chance to look at a second career," he said. "My family and I are looking forward to the transition to civilian life.

"Although, I will always consider myself a Soldier, I'm looking forward to the transition to being a civilian. I've always loved the Army and plan on continuing to find ways to support the great Soldiers of our Army."

As AMCOM's chief of staff, Macklin has spent the past two years working closely with the organization's employees. While his boss, AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar, and AMCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Tod Glidewell have traveled the globe in support of AMCOM's mission, Macklin had the pleasure of staying close to home and getting to know its employees.

"It's the people who have made this job so good," he said.

"I've loved working here. I've been around the most incredible collection of professionals and talented Army civilians and military the Army has to offer. They make a difference every day for the war fighter."

He has seen and heard that difference during video teleconferences with commanders and their staffs in Afghanistan. He has received emails and phone calls from deployed forces telling him how much they appreciate AMCOM's support.

"Over and over again, I've heard, 'You made a difference. You made us be able to do our job.'

This team of teams is unmatched in the Army. Its technical expertise, professional experience and industrial know-how is unmatched. It's a great collaboration of people, and I'm glad to have been a part of it. This has been a fantastic experience for me," Macklin said.

More than anything, though, Macklin has been proud to see AMCOM civilians living and working by the Army's values. Even in tough times like this year's furloughs, AMCOM's civilian workforce has stayed dedicated to the mission.

"The furloughs and government shutdown were a tremendous challenge for the civilian workforce here," he said. "But they took it on the chin. And when it was over, they stood up, dusted themselves off, came back to work and continued to support the war fighter."

Macklin commissioned into the Army in 1988, after graduating as a Distinguished Military Graduate from Mercer University in Macon, Ga. He served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; 2nd Infantry Division, Korea; 3rd Infantry Division, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.; and 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Katterbach, Germany, among others.

He served at the Infantry Center, Fort Benning, Ga., where he was chief of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team Transformation Cell. He took command of the 3-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion in June 2006 and relinquished command in December 2009 after returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom. He then served as the chief of Future Operations at U.S. Army Europe headquarters, and then took command of both the Army Air Traffic Services Command and the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group at Fort Rucker, deploying in support of both Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan, in 2010-11.

"I can honestly say I've never had a bad assignment," Macklin said. "There were some tough times. But I've always loved the sound of turning rotor blades, the smell of jet fuel, the feeling of esprit de corps and knowing I'm part of a great team.

"I wouldn't do anything different if I had to do it all over again. If I had to write a script, I couldn't think of a better way to tell a story or a better place to end up."

Of his many command assignments, Macklin is especially proud of his service as the commander of the nearly 400 Soldiers who made up the 3-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007-09 as a part of Task Force 12th Combat Aviation Brigade.

"We were in Iraq for 15 months during the surge. It was an incredibly difficult time. We did a lot of difficult things and went through some pretty tough times over there," he said.

"We brought everyone home and that was a career highlight for me. To be able to march onto that airfield after getting off the plane, and knowing we had just completed more than 24,000 combat flight hours and that all those Soldiers were going home to their families … It was a great feeling."

During that assignment, Macklin oversaw daily air assault missions that involved the battalion's fleet of 30 Black Hawk helicopters. While in Iraq, his battalion performed a diverse mission set including support of a combined, joint special operations task force, Multi-National Division Baghdad and Multi-National Division Center/South.

"Everybody came together to do their job. It was a tremendous team effort," he said. "We had the resources, we had the training and we had the will to win. We had everything we needed to go out and do the mission at an incredibly high proficiency rate.

"We were constantly moving. We had to be very flexible. It was a very turbulent time, and a very meaningful time for all of us."

It was during his deployments that Macklin saw the true strength of the Army.

"You get all this training, and then you fly into a situation not knowing how everyone will react. My experience was that trained, confident crews executed very tough missions daily. I could not have been any prouder of those great men and women," he said.

His deployments and all his years of service taught Macklin a lot about himself, about leadership and about working with other people. It taught him about the importance of trust, teamwork and decision making.

"It's OK to rely on other people. Good leaders don't know everything. But they have to know how to listen and be able to make hard decisions. I believe the most important attribute of a good leader is to put the needs of the organization before their own" Macklin said.

"You can do everything right and things can still go bad. The enemy gets a vote. We had to keep our Soldiers focused every day. We had to stay alert. There was no room for complacency. We had to stay on top of our game every minute. In situations like that, you make bonds with fellow Soldiers that last forever."

For anyone who chooses a military career, it offers a lifestyle and a way to serve that changes a person forever.

"It makes you grow up pretty quick," Macklin said. "At a very young age, you have lives in your hands and you are making decisions that affect those lives knowing that the needs of the individual aren't as important as the needs of the organization. It's a big life lesson.

"You grow to understand how to work with people in pursuit of a larger goal, of something more important than our personal needs."

The colonel also recalled the mentors who taught him what it meant to be a Soldier.

"When I was in Korea, I had an incredible non-commissioned officer who took the time to mentor me and teach me what I needed to know," he said. "He made me the officer I ended up as today. There were also senior officers who invested time in me. If it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't be here today."

During his years of service, Macklin has also seen the Army change, particularly in the way it treats its Soldiers and their families.

Although it's time to keep his family rooted in one place, Macklin said he is thankful for what the Army taught him and his family through all those years of moving and enjoying new places.

"My family moved every two years and they never complained," he said. "It's all they've ever known. My wife and kids are the true heroes. They put up with the moves, uprooted friends and relationships and new schools. I can honestly say that I would not have achieved nearly what I have if it weren't for the steadfast support and unconditional love of my family. I am grateful for their sacrifice and love them for it."

The big Army adventure is something that the Macklins will always cherish.

"When I look back at my time in the Army, I am incredibly proud to have served. I feel like I've made a difference and am honored to have led Soldiers," he said. "And, hopefully, I've left the Army a little better than I found it."