Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
By Jeff Mullin
Since the day in 1941 when bulldozers turned the first dirt in the farmer’s fields that would become Vance Air Force Base, the base has been part of the fabric of life in the city of Enid.
On Wednesday, that close relationship was recognized as Enid was named winner of the 2014 Altus Trophy, also called the Air Education and Training Command Community Support Award.
“We have known for years that Enid has an amazing partnership with Vance Air Force Base,” said Andi Holland, immediate past chairwoman of the Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce’s Federal Economic Development/Government Affairs Council, the group that submitted the nomination packet for the Altus Trophy. “They are just finally catching up.”
The Altus Trophy, developed in 2011 by the 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.
“This is in recognition of the great community support and relationship Enid and Vance have,” said Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison. “This is a very prestigious award.”
Current AETC commander Gen. Robin Rand announced the award Wednesday morning at command headquarters in San Antonio, during a meeting with civic leaders from communities that are home to AETC bases.
“The Enid community clearly fosters an excellent environment of military and civilian cooperation and collaboration,” Rand said. “The Altus Trophy recognizes the outstanding community support Vance Development Authority and the Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce provided throughout 2013.”
A number of items were highlighted in Enid’s nomination package, which committee members have been working on since the summer of 2013, including the ongoing project to lengthen the main runway at Enid Woodring Regional Airport so it can accommodate T-38s from Vance, the joint-use hangar at Woodring that was completed in 2012, and the soon-to-open new control tower at Vance, all the result of local, state and federal partnerships.
Other items cited were Camp Tomahawk, a joint chamber-Vance effort to provide a camp experience for children whose families might not otherwise be able to afford to send them to camp; Enlisted Appreciation Night, a night of food, fun and prizes for Vance enlisted personnel, an annual event for 47 years (nearly $25,000 was raised for last year’s event with the support of more than 160 local businesses); the adopt-a-class program that pairs local civic leaders with Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training classes, providing student pilots with a personal relationship with members of the Enid community; and the Vance scholarship program that has paid for more than $1 million in textbooks and tuition for Vance airmen since its inception, $46,000 in 2013 alone.
Col. Darren James, commander of 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance, said the fact Enid won the award did not surprise him.
“The extraordinary partnership that has grown between the base and the city since 1941 is absolutely second to none, and I am proud that Vance AFB is part of that relationship,” he said. “From the Vance Development Authority to the Chamber of Commerce to our Vance Partners in the Sky and the Honorary Commander Program, as well as the ever-popular Enlisted Appreciation Night, the level of support Vance and the Air Force receives from this community never ceases to amaze me. Melissa and I consider it a blessing to have been stationed in Enid twice during our career. My thanks goes out to the city of Enid for all the support provided to Vance airmen and their families.”
Enid City Manager Eric Benson, himself a former air base commander with the Navy, said the award is a clear indicator that both Enid and Vance are dedicated to each other’s benefit.
“It’s a strong indication of the close bond the city enjoys with the U.S. Air Force,” Benson said. “Enid has had a historically strong relationship with the Vance community. In fact, it’s maybe at its highest point in years.”
“We are excited about it,” said Jon Blankenship, president and chief executive officer of the Enid chamber. “This is great news for Enid and Vance Air Force Base. Enid has a long, rich history of partnering with Vance.”
As a former Air Force wife, Holland says she has a personal stake in Enid’s close relationship with Vance. Her family retired in Enid after having been stationed here.
“We had never been at any other base where the community was as warm and welcoming as Enid,” she said.