By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, recently visited Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix.
Rand, a onetime wing commander at Luke, normally receives a warm welcome at his former base, but not this time.
“If looks could kill, I would have been a dead man,” Rand said. “They were gunning for me. I said, ‘I had nothing to do with the selection.’”
Rand was referring to the Altus Trophy, also known as the AETC Community Support Award, for which both Luke and Vance AFB were finalists. This year’s award went to Vance and Enid, not to Luke and Phoenix, hence Rand’s less-than-cordial welcome.
Rand was far more welcome Wednesday morning at Enid Woodring Regional Airport, as he took part in the official presentation of the Altus Trophy to Enid community leaders.
He commended Enid for its long and close relationship with the Air Force and Vance, which he called “a phenomenal community renowned for taking care of the Air Force.”
But he cautioned local leaders that Vance now is a target for the other 10 bases in AETC that are eligible for the Altus Trophy (Altus AFB, where the award originated, is ineligible).
“Your competition is steep,” Rand said. “But at the end of the day, it’s really not about a trophy, it’s about mission, airmen and families.”
Rand highlighted various aspects of the ongoing Vance-community partnership; like the scholarship program that provided $46,000 in textbooks and tuition for airmen in 2013 alone; Camp Tomahawk, which provides a week of camp on base for underprivileged children; and the ongoing expansion of the main runway at Woodring to allow T-38s at Vance to use the airport as an alternate landing field.
But he placed special emphasis on Enlisted Appreciation Night, a Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event that annually provides an evening of fun for Vance enlisted personnel, and Vance’s honorary commander program, through which local civic leaders become honorary commanders of squadrons at the base.
Rand said during his 35-year career he has not heard of another community sponsoring an Enlisted Appreciation Night, and commended Enid for supporting “our enlisted airmen, airmen with a capital A,” during difficult financial times for the Air Force.
“In the worst year we’ve had in two or three decades with sequestration, and the pressures and uncertainties that has put on our airmen, you gave them at least one night where they could roll their socks down and have a great time,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
Rand said the relationship between a base and its local community can be gauged through its honorary commander program.
“Our honorary commanders learn about us, and more importantly we learn about you,” said Rand, “and Enid has a great program.”
The Altus Trophy, developed in 2011 by Altus Chamber of Commerce and then-AETC commander Gen. Edward A. Rice, is presented to the community judged to have teamed best and most effectively with its AETC base. Rice is one of the retired four-stars who select the Altus Trophy winner based on nomination packets presented by the competing bases.
Dr. Joe Leverett, chairman of the Altus Military Affairs Committee, was on hand for the presentation. He spoke of the power that one person can have in the life of a community and a base. He told the story of R.W. “Dick” Moore, who in 1959 took $1,000 in a brown paper sack to Oklahoma City and donated it to a little-known political candidate. The candidate told Moore if he ever needed anything, to call him and use the phrase “before the cock crows twice.” In late 1963, when Altus AFB was about to be closed, Moore went to Washington, D.C., to see that candidate, who by then had become President Lyndon Johnson. Moore used the code phrase, was ushered into the Oval Office to see LBJ and convinced the president to spare Altus AFB.
“Enid has lots of assets in its sack,” said Leverett.
Jon Blankenship, president and chief executive officer of Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, spoke of the process of submitting a nomination package for the award.
“It highlights the ways Enid supports Vance, but equally important to us was highlighting the way the people of Vance support Enid,” he said. “It is a two-way street, and we know that. Vance people and Vance families are engaged in our city. They are involved in our schools, our churches, they volunteer for our community projects. The people at Vance make Enid a better city, they elevate our quality of life.”
Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison and chairman of Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, told Rand, “this community, we have our arms around your airmen and their families.”
Besides Enid and Luke, the other two finalists for this year’s award were Goodfellow AFB, Texas, and Maxwell AFB, Ala.