By Owen K. Garriott, Special to the News & Eagle
Editor’s note: Through his travels and participation in the aerospace industry, Enid native Owen K. Garriott has had the opportunity to visit with many other officials, and he reports he often finds many in the field have ties to Enid. He recently attended a NASA Advisory Council and wanted to pass along to Enid News & Eagle readers some of their ties to Enid.
Even though retired from NASA for over 20 years, I still maintain a direct connection to the space agency as a member of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), which advises the administrator about policy and other issues relating to how NASA should plan its future. Within a larger group of about 30 advisors, there are six of us on the Operations Committee.
At our recent three-day quarterly meeting in Wash-ington, D.C., one member asked me about “my hometown,” and when he heard it was Enid, his face lit up with pleasure and enthusiasm as he described his experience on the Base Realignment and Closure Committee a few years ago. It was a fascinating story which I think many in our community might like to read.
In further discussion at dinner it turns out among the six of us, five have had a rather close, personal link to Enid. All of them were willing to provide a few short paragraphs describing their connection with Enid and an indication of how their lives have moved ahead after their brief stays in Enid, and all of their comments are provided in this article.
My own story already may be adequately covered in my home town, but in addition to 12 years in the public school system there, I have been pleased to be a co-founder of Leonardo’s Discovery Ware-house and return to Enid as often as possible.
Both of my parents were born nearby, my mother in Lahoma and my father near Canton, so northwest Okla-homa has remained close to my heart throughout my life. Amateur radio (“ham”) activities, first learned at the Enid Amateur Radio Club with my father, also have made a significant contribution to my career path. It now has become a part of my son Richard’s life as well, when he flew to the International Space Station only last October with the Russians on a Soyuz vehicle.
We are the only American father-son pair to have flown in space and it seems likely to remain the case for quite some time.
As one makes new friends it is commonplace to ask from where they come. The answer to this question from Owen Garriott was Enid. Not expecting me to know anything about Enid, including its location, Owen was a bit surprised by my reaction.
I am a Vietnam-era veteran somewhat scarred by the reception I experienced upon return to our country. As a member of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Enid was a major step in my healing process.
Our visit to Vance Air Force Base brought us in touch with Enid’s leaders and the populace at large. One of the criteria for assessing whether or not to close a base was community support. This provided a measure as to whether the base’s mission capability might be impaired in the future by planning decisions adverse to its operations.
Two days in Enid dispelled us of that notion. I not only found a community in full support of the base’s future but a genuine warmth and pride for the military and its personnel. Though this experience was nearly 30 years after my Vietnam experience, it nonetheless made me feel my service was not only worthwhile but truly appreciated.
Two days in Enid were an important event in my emotional life never to be forgotten.
I attended Undergraduate Pilot Training Sept. 1978 to Aug. 1979. I was fortunate to be selected as a T-38 instructor pilot and returned to Enid for three years.
I decided to invest in the real estate market and was adventurous enough to purchase my own home. As a young second lieutenant, I did not have much money and owned very little. I remember meeting with about four bankers, discussing how I would pay for my mortgage.
When asked how much my personal property was worth, I added up my bike, TV and stereo. I think I told them I owned under $500 worth of personal property! They just stared at me in disbelief.
Then one said, “You normally insure your personal property for half of the home’s value.”
Well despite my sparse living, they gave me the loan anyway. This was the start of a great relationship between myself and the Enid community. I enjoyed a strong relationship with my church, weekend motorcycle rides with friends and exploring the beautiful western Oklahoma plains.
I also flew small aircraft on weekends as I visited airshows around the state.
I still have great memories of gazing at the clear night skies, while becoming in-spired with the science of astronomy. I bought a telescope while living in Enid. I also remember long runs, smelling the clean clear air and the exhilarating feeling of standing on the flight line when a cold front passed. Wow!
On a brilliant afternoon in May 1978, I strapped into a Northrop T-38 Talon and rocketed into the blue sky over Enid, easing effortlessly up through white cumulus clouds towering over emerald wheat fields 20,000 feet below. The approach controller watched the twisting blip of my Talon on his scope and radioed, “Must be some nice ‘puffies’ up there today!” He heard the laughter in my reply: “Roger that!”
Nineteen-year-old John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote of a similar flight in 1941: “Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things on Earth you have not dreamed of…”
Surely my T-38 equaled his Spitfire in its capacity to delight a fledgling aviator.
Skylab 3 veteran Owen Garriott was a frequent visitor to my training field, Vance Air Force Base, located on the outskirts of Owen’s hometown of Enid. One frosty January weekend he dropped in for a quick family visit, parking his gleaming NASA “White Rocket” adjacent to our Air Force Talons.
Spotting the blue-trimmed T-38 on the Vance ramp, I laid a reverent, gloved hand on the immaculate jet. A friend’s snapshot captures my expression of admiration and hopeful envy.
I spent a year at Vance, pedaling my bicycle to the flight line through sun, thunderstorms and snow. On weekends I’d escape the tidy little base to visit Enid and enjoy the local restaurants with friends. The town welcomed our crowd of eager, exuberant young aviators-in-training — often a little too exuberant.
After flying the B-52 for the Air Force and completing graduate school, I returned in July 1990 to Enid with new friends, the 13th group of astronauts – the “Hairballs.” At Vance we were in the air again, lofted over the fields under a pickup-towed parasail, then descending to what we hoped would be a soft landing!
It was one of our first training exercises as a group; for us rookies, Enid was one of our first steppingstones to spaceflight.
My first two shuttle missions, aboard Endeavour, took me repeatedly over Oklahoma’s green wheat fields. From 110 miles up I would spot Great Salt Plains Lake, then look south to spy the long parallel runways at Vance.
Before our five-miles-a-second orbital speed carried me away, I returned briefly, via memory, to again soar and wheel over Enid, the place where my dreams of aviation and space truly took flight. When next I touch down there, I’ll breathe in the air of the plains and relax, knowing I’m again among friends.
While serving as chairman of the board of the Air Force Association, I had the privilege of visiting Vance AFB and the Enid AFA chapter.
While most Air Force bases I visited enjoyed good community support, the level of that support I observed in the Enid area was incredible. One measure of that comes from the number of community partners the Enid AFA chapter has.
AFA Community Partners are businesses that actively support military members in their community through membership and active participation in the local AFA chapter. At the time I was chairman, the Enid chapter had over 400 Community Partners. They easily won the competition within AFA for the chapter with the most Community Partners, both in absolute terms and in percentage of total membership.
In fact, not only did the Enid chapter have the largest number of Community Partners of any chapter in AFA, they had more Com-munity Partners in their chapter than the total number of Community Partners in all of the chapters combined in any single AFA region (typically several states.) The level of community support from the citizens of Enid is unsurpassed, and it contributes in ways that are too numerous to count in the ability of the Air Force to do its job in the defense of our nation.