In 1995, Vance Air Force Base faced permanent closure, but the residents of Enid kept that from happening.
On June 7, 1995, four members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission visited Vance to conduct a survey to see whether or not the base still was an asset to the Air Force and the military as a whole, according to Daniel LeClair, base historian.
BRAC is the congressionally authorized process the Department of Defense has used to reorganize its base structure to more efficiently and effectively support the armed forces, increase operational readiness and facilitate new ways of doing business, according to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment website.
Michael Cooper, currently serving as military liaison for the Vance Development Authority and the city of Enid, was the mayor of Enid during the BRAC 1995 visit. He recalled what it felt like to have so much community support for the base and how much Vance means to the city itself.
“The relationship between the city and the base is incalculable,” said Cooper. “I knew that the people were supportive, but they especially wanted to show their support that day.”
Cooper remembered walking around base with the BRAC members, ending the tour at the club with lunch and feeling a little worried that Vance didn’t have the community support it needed. But come to find out that it was alive and well.
“You could hear the roar of the people as soon as we were leaving base,” recalled Cooper. More than 12,000 residents of Enid and Northwest Oklahoma lined the road to greet the BRAC members.
Rear Adm. Benjamin Montoya, one of the four members of the commission, leaned over to Cooper and said, “Mike, you have nothing to worry about — you’ve got the support.”
That level of community support has continued throughout the years as the city and Vance have developed.
George Pankonin, current Enid mayor, emphasized the cooperation between the city and the base.
“The base has a huge financial impact on our economy and we are very grateful for that support,” said Pankonin. “But our long-term relationship extends well beyond economic contributions.”
The city of Enid developed Vance Development Authority to provide proactive support of the base mission and personnel in order to stay “in-tune” with the base’s evolving needs, said Pankonin.
The needs of the base provided by the city over the years have included, but not limited to purchasing additional land for the base to expand, and helping with tuition assistance and book stipends for Airmen to go to school.
Pankonin said that the northern border of Vance used to be Fox Drive, but this was a security concern since critical infrastructure was close to the public road. The city purchased the land north of the street to ensure base security and provide land for possible base expansion.
Additionally, in 1995, the Air Force paid 75% tuition assistance for military personnel and the city of Enid covered the other 25% so personnel can attend school for free. When the Air Force later provided 100% tuition assistance, the city chose to continue its support by providing a book stipend and expanding the program to military family members as well.
The continuous support has grown increasingly stronger throughout the years since the BRAC visit. The people who showed up to support Vance that day secured the relationship between the base and the city for the years to come.