By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Dan Ohnesorge, director of Enid Woodring Regional Airport, once followed in his father’s footsteps — sort of.
Ohnesorge joined the Air Force, while his father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the forerunner to the Air Force, during World War II.
“It wasn’t until I was pretty much a mid-range captain, that my dad stopped saying, when I came home, ‘How’s the Army?’” Ohne-sorge said.
That is one reason Ohnesorge is so involved in the Air Force Association and is, in fact, president of Enid’s AFA Chapter 214. Education is a key piece of the national non-profit organization’s mission, which also includes advocating aerospace power and a strong national defense, as well as supporting the Air Force and its people.
“What we do, as retirees or as members downtown, is educate ourselves via the literature or the things the Air Force Association puts out,” Ohnesorge said, “then we hope to further that to our neighbors, our co-workers, et cetra, so they understand what the Air Force does, so that at the end of the day the politicians learn and understand it, so the Air Force is supported as it should be.”
The local AFA chapter has more than 500 members, both corporate members, known as community partners, and individuals.
“Enid has the most number of community partners out of any chapter nationwide,” said Terry Cox, a member of Chapter 214 and president of the AFA’s Texas-Oklahoma region. “The community partners really provide a lot of support and financial help to the Air Force Association.”
“AFA instituted the gold award for community partners and we have won it 20 years in a row,” said Jay Jacobs, who re-cently ended his term as state AFA president. “We see the need of getting the community involved. Not just individual members, but getting businesses involved, letting them know what is going on out here at Vance and the importance of Vance.
“The neatest thing about our chapter is as small as we are, how large we are.”
Cox pointed out the AFA is an advocacy organization, not a lobbying group.
“We’re there to strictly support the Air Force,” he said. “If issues do present themselves, we make sure that we provide literature to educate politicians and educate the local community.”
Supporting the Air Force is something that comes naturally to Enid.
“Enid has one of the best bonds with their base of any base in the nation,” said Jacobs. “At every change of command I go to, the incoming commander always says they have heard about the ties to the community. We reinforce that.”
“The AFA chapter here supports the airmen out at the base, locally,” Cox said. “I’ve never seen a town more wrap its arms around an Air Force installation than Enid does around Vance Air Force Base.”
Each quarter, Vance’s 71st Flying Training Wing recognizes its top airman, non-commissioned officer, senior NCO and company-grade officer. Each is given a free AFA membership. Annual winners are presented with a $50 check by the AFA and are invited to the group’s quarterly membership program.
“Locally, we provide scholarships to deserving airmen through the Community College of the Air Force,” said Cox. “A lot of the dollars that we generate either through subscriptions to being a member of AFA, go right back into supporting the airmen at Vance Air Force Base. That’s why we really enjoy this chapter because there is so much community support to help support the folks at the base.”
The local chapter also plays a big role in the Greater Enid Chamber of Com-merce’s annual Enlisted Appreciation Night at Vance, serving as the largest single contributor. The event annually provides food, entertainment and thousands of dollars in prizes to enlisted personnel at Vance.
The group also annually sponsors the “Vance-Townie Golf Tournament,” at Oakwood Country Club, enabling local leaders to spend a day getting to know base personnel in a relaxed social setting.
Throughout the school year, Chapter 214 arranges for instructor pilots to speak to fifth-graders once a week about aviation and the Air Force. Every summer, the local chapter stages a flight camp for children in 4th through 6th grades. The camp culminates in the children getting flights thanks to local volunteer pilots, including Cox.
“They learned a little bit about aviation, a little bit about flight, how airplanes fly, but probably the biggest impression is the flight itself,” said Ohnesorge. “They’ll never forget that. If we have generated the interest in the Air Force, or just aviation itself, we’ve been successful.”
AFA stresses science, technology, engineering and math. The national organization sponsors a competition called CyberPatriot, which involves teams of high schoolers trying to thwart a mock cyber attack. CyberPatriot 2, which begins in September, will involve some 300 teams.
Chapter 214 erected a statue in front of Vance’s Operations Support Squadron building in 1974, donated a marble monument in the base air park in honor of the Air Force’s 50th anniversary in 1997, and raised funds for the “Pioneers Past, Present and Future,” statue dedicated in 2008 on Enid’s downtown Square.
During last fall’s open house and air show at Vance, the local AFA chapter sponsored a VIP tent for pilots and crews and a tent for the famed Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team. The group also held a reception for the Thunderbirds and invited all of its community partners.
“Those are the things we can do that the Air Force can’t do,” said Jacobs. “It is hard for them to blow their own horn, but we want to be able to show what they do out there. Vance is a tremendous treasure.”
AFA membership is open to anyone, no matter if they are now or have ever been affiliated with the Air Force. Individual memberships are $36 annually, while corporate community partners pay $75 per year.
“It’s just not retirees,” said Ohnesorge, a former vice wing commander at Vance. “We have quite a few people, even on our board, who are not retirees.”
Looking ahead, the local chapter plans to reach out to local groups to present programs about the Air Force and the function of AFA. Cox hopes to see the group expand its presence on base.
“I’d like to see the AFA be the go-to people on base,” Cox said. “If they want to do a fun-run on base for all the airmen, have the AFA be the ones to sponsor it, to have T-shirts and drinks, just to raise the awareness of the Air Force Association.”
To join Chapter 214 of the Air Force Association, contact Brian Colby, membership vice president, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, go to Chapter 214’s Web site, www.enidafa.com.