Leader Blues

Saturday, April 03, 2010

TOP STORY >> LRAFB AND COMMUNITY WIN Recognition for excellence

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville and central Arkansas’ support of Little Rock Air Force Base has been no secret throughout the Air Force. But in its first year of eligibility, the area has been recognized by the awarding of the Abilene Trophy for best civic community support of a base in the Air Mobility Command.

The Abilene Trophy, established in 1998 by the Military Relations Committee of the Abilene, Texas, Chamber of Commerce, is awarded annually to the community in Air Mobility Command that is most supportive of the local Air Force base.

Previous to the base’s reorganization last year, LRAFB was under the 314th Airlift Wing.

“This just affirms what a wonderful community we have and how important the base is to us,” said Annabelle M. Davis, executive secretary of the LRAFB Community Council, which won the award.

“It is with great pride and enthusiasm that I have the privilege of announcing that you won this year’s Abilene Trophy—the best community in all of AMC!” base commander Col. Greg Otey wrote in an e-mail to community council members Thursday.

“Your steadfast support of the base, its missions and its people haven’t gone unnoticed. I’ve said many times that I’m blessed to have such a supportive local community, and this award validates everything I’ve been saying since I arrived here last year.”

“We’ve said for a long time that the support we receive from the folks in central Arkansas is second to none,” Otey continued.

“That was validated with the announcement of the Abilene Trophy Wednesday. On behalf of the men and women of Little Rock Air Force Base, thank you. Thank you not only for what you have done in the past but for what you will continue to do for Little Rock AFB and our airmen.”

Col. Michael Zick, vice commander for the 19th Airlift Wing, informed the Jacksonville City Council on Thursday night about the award, saying that the trophy would be displayed at city hall.

Mayor Gary Fletcher hugged the colonel and said, “We just fall in love with these guys when they are here and then miss them when they have to leave.”

Both Otey and Davis cited Jacksonville’s support of the new Joint Education Center as a key component in winning the award.

Jacksonville residents taxed themselves and raised $5 million toward the new center, currently under construction outside the gate but on base property.

“It really set a new standard and precedent,” Davis said.

Otey cited other indications of the support that the base gets from the community:

The Jacksonville mayor briefs Little Rock AFB’s newcomers orientation each week, so every new airman knows the local mayor.

Airpower Arkansas, a subset of the community council consisting of local community members, raised funds for the base’s 2010 air show, collecting more than $50,000 from local businesses and individuals.

Community members donated more than $22,000 in support of the Little Rock AFB rodeo teams. ?In addition to the outstanding financial support, many attended the pre-departure breakfast and the post-rodeo celebrations, and a few community members even accompanied the Little Rock AFB rodeo teams to the competition.

Civic leaders sponsored base events including the Air Force ball, the annual awards ceremony and the Black Knight Heritage Dinner enabling deep discounts for airmen’s ticket prices. These leaders also made time on Thanksgiving and Christmas to serve meals to airmen at the base dining facility.

Community members sponsor the base’s free quarterly deployed-families dinner for spouses and children of deployed members.

Military discounts are offered to local concerts and sporting events and some are free.

Some recent examples include reduced admission to see country music stars Trace Adkins and Martina McBride, reduced admission to see the Harlem Globetrotters, admission for the price of the Ticketmaster service charge for both Kenny Chesney and the musical group Kiss, and community-sponsored tickets to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team.

These events especially allow junior enlisted military members the opportunity to see events that they might not be able to otherwise afford, thanks to the generous support of the central Arkansas community.

Formally known as the Air Mobility Command Community Support Award, it has been awarded since its establishment in 1998 in Abilene, the home to Dyess Air Force Base, which has an AMC contingent, the 317th Airlift Group.

But the main host, the 7th Bomber Wing, is under the Air Combat Command, and thus Dyess would not be eligible for an award sponsored by its host city.

Charleston, S.C., has won the award three times, and Grand Forks, N.D.; Dover, Del.; Tampa, Fla., and Spokane, Wash., have each won twice.

Larry Wilson, a former president of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council, said the Abilene Trophy reflected the area’s commitment to the Air Force Base.

“This is big,” Wilson said.

Alderman Marshall Smith said, “This is a tremendous award. The Air Force has said for years in different ways that Jacksonville is a great military town.”

Garrick Feldman, editor and publisher of The Leader, told Otey after the award was announced, “Every successful endeavor takes a team effort. The men and women of Little Rock Air Force Base prove that every day.

“The community support reflects our deep appreciation of your pursuit of excellence 24/7,” Feldman said..

“We meet you in our neighborhoods and businesses and see you flying on the horizon, and we hear you at night, the sentinels of freedom, always ready when called upon,” he said.