San Angelo: a community that appreciates and cares

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- During my change of command speech just over a month ago, I strictly followed my Air Command and Staff College education by specifically highlighting the appropriate leadership of the 17th Training Wing, cherished family members (even the ones more interested in mom's emergency candy versus my incredibly profound insight on commanding an Air Force squadron) and other members in the audience.

Included in that same astute Air University schooling was the humorous point of keeping my words on the short side since most people in attendance weren't going to remember what I said anyway. Even with the months of mental preparation, I must admit that I, too, fall into that same category of attendees who don't remember what I said on that esteemed day.

However, I have been reminded of one specific highlight from that day. The voluntary attendance at this change of command, as well as the next three I attended over the following weeks, was not only made up of base personnel, but also by a variety of citizens of San Angelo.

Maybe I was just daydreaming of the heavy hors d'oeuvres during the dozens of other changes of command I have attended in my career, but I cannot recall a consistent presence by the local community. While I made a feeble attempt at recognizing this unique characteristic of my own change of command, I now have the opportunity to underscore the special relationship we have with the city of San Angelo.

Not only do the people of San Angelo attend base ceremonies, but they also seem to have a passion for feeding our troops. In my short time here, I have heard multiple stories of our base personnel trying to pay for their meals, only to have their check picked up by one of our appreciative local patriots.

I am fully aware of the economic impact that the base has on the city, but I can assure you this is not the reason for their generosity. In interacting with our base neighbors, I am more than certain their patriotic passion runs deep. I find this especially refreshing. Just take a few minutes and watch the current political maneuvering on the national news and you will too.

The support doesn't stop with free plates of burritos and glorious buffets either. Whether you realize it or not, we have a very healthy "Honorary Commander Program." This program integrates select civic leaders into individual squadrons and groups here in the 17th Wing. It is an outstanding way to include a community that wants to be a part of our critical mission.

I would like to specifically mention the 17th Mission Support Squadron representative, John Kerr, who has taken the lead for the Home-Front Heroes program. This program provides local goods and services to family members in all stages of deployment. Since its inception in April 2007, the program has been successful in collecting gift certificates, monetary donations, and goods that have exceeded $9,000. 

Families of deployed members can take advantage of this San Angelo-sponsored program for things such as restaurant gift certificates, tire and oil change services, lawn care, movie rentals, car washes, dry cleaning, and much more. First Sergeants and supervisors should contact the Airman and Family Readiness Flight for more information. This is another example of a community that appreciates and cares for their neighboring Air Force base and the service members that train and work here.

I realize there are plenty of other communities in this great country that display support of uniformed service members, but San Angelo displays a truly unique level of appreciation. I also understand that larger cities offer more options, but they often do not provide the graciousness that the smaller ones do.

While assigned to Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., I noticed that the majority of the locals I interacted with had no idea there was a military installation anywhere near them. For example, while attending a typical Air Force "going away luncheon" (downtown and in uniform), I was approached and asked "where were we filming?" 

After asking for clarification of the question, I was then asked what show or movie we were a part of. Quickly realizing that Hollywood was just up the road, I attempted to explain that all of the uniformed members around me were assigned to the local Air Force base. Sadly, the conversation ended with a look of puzzlement and disappointment as I tried to explain where this mysterious military installation was located.

My family and I consider ourselves extremely lucky to be residents of San Angelo, and you should too. So the next time someone thanks you for your service, pays for your lunch, attends one of our military ceremonies, or anything else, return the same vigorous sentiment to them by thanking them for their unwavering support!