Simmons: Vance moving ahead with Enid's help

Col. Corey Simmons, 71st Flying Training Wing commander, delivers the annual State of the Base address in the Autry Technology Center lectorium on Friday Jan. 10, 2020. (Mitchell Willetts / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — Local, state and military leaders filled the Autry Technology Center lectorium Friday morning for the annual State of the Base address, led by Col. Corey Simmons, 71st Flying Training Wing commander.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Simmons discussed strides made at Vance Air Force Base in the last year, thanked fellow airmen and civilian partners in the community for their contributions, listed the big issues holding his attention and laid out what the future of Vance looks like and the help it needs to get there.

"You are here for a reason. You are the movers and shakers of Enid and Garfield County and Northwest Oklahoma," Simmons told the audience. "Now that you've heard the sermon, I want you to advocate."

Everything Vance does is designed to help accomplish the four D's — Deliver Pilots, Develop Innovative Airmen, Deploy Warriors, Demonstrate Our Culture — and Simmons broke down all the different efforts either underway, or recently implemented, to hit all four.

Making the numbers

In 2019, Vance developed and delivered 372 pilots, making it the only base to hit its quota.

"Not only were we the only base that actually made our number, we are the only one that made it within 10%," he said. "That doesn't happen by accident."

Vance was able to exceed its target goal despite having to close a runway for nearly three months while $7.2 million in improvements were being made to the lighting system.

"The lighting system in our inside runway was decrepit. I wouldn't use the words 'not safe,' but absolutely not ideal," Simmons said.

Enid Woodring Regional Airport served as a temporary solution to runway woes, and that 372 figure owes in no small part to the cooperative relationship.

"I cannot overstate how important that facility is to us," Simmons said of Woodring.

Another invaluable asset was made available last year in the form of a temporary facility, now housing the 33rd Flying Training Squadron.

The 33rd shares the space with Vance's collection of virtual reality equipment, tools increasingly relied upon for pilot training.

'Not forgotten'

Measuring progress made since the last State of the Base address, there's plenty to be happy about. But Vance wasn't without tragedy in 2019. Simmons took a few moments to remember four servicemen lost, two by suicide in June and October and two in a Nov. 21 training accident.

"We have not moved on, because moving on means we have forgotten. We have not forgotten, but we are absolutely moving forward," Simmons said.

Once again thanking the Enid community for standing by the base, Simmons highlighted the outpouring of support that came in the hours and days following the November accident.

"What you did mattered. A thousand text messages, a thousand emails: We felt every one of them," he said.

Milestones and challenges

Several milestones and challenges are expected in the near future.

A roughly $7 million effort improving power lines at the base, and burying them underground, is at 72% completion, Simmons said.

Two of three runways slated for repairs at Vance are now good as new, ready for operation, but a third still is in need of attention.

Work fixing up the inside runway finished in 2019, with the outside runway getting the same treatment two years earlier, "but now the gorilla in that room is going to be that center runway," Simmons said.

It will cost $55 million, but "more importantly it will take us down, and we will be using (Woodring) for 18 months," he said.

Enlisted dorms remain a top priority. Existing facilities were constructed in the 1950s, leaving today's airmen with rooms half the size of modern Air Force standards.

Simmons has pushed hard to get funding and support from higher up to either build new living quarters or gut and renovate what they've got, but with his time at Vance nearing its end it's unlikely he will be in charge if and when that approval arrives.

'Vance is the leader ...'

Lt. General Brad Webb, commanding officer of Air Education and Training Command, closed out the State of the Base with his thoughts on Vance and the community where it resides.

"Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Vance is the leader in any number of areas," Webb said, comparing the base against all 14 installations that he oversees.

"Vance has a really important mission, and our Air Force could not be in a more important position as we look at our national defense strategy going forward," Webb said. "We have some challenges, but you have every reason in the world to be confident, because of this group right here."

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Willetts is education and city reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Mitchell? Send an email to mwilletts@enidnews.com.

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