Boots on the Ground for Honorary Commanders at Altus

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Civic leaders from the Jackson County community got a rare glimpse into the lives of the U.S. Airmen at Altus Air Force Base, May 31, 2017, as the mighty 97th welcomed its newest honorary commanders to a day in the life of the Air Force – from reveille to retreat. The ten-hour immersion was designed to provide a firsthand opportunity for private citizens to see the quality and capability of not only the people and weapon systems at Altus AFB, but the development of today's total force.

The honorary commander program is designed to foster support between the base and local communities by pairing up civics with unit commanders for a two-year term. This encourages an exchange of ideas, experiences and friendships between members of the local civilian and Altus military communities.

Starting at 7 a.m., the honorary commanders were joined by military personnel for a group physical training session at the base fitness center. The 45-minute workout was led by an active-duty physical training leader and showcased the military’s necessity for being fit to fight.

“Basically it kicked our butts!” said Tiphanie Hamon, sales manager for the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. “It was intense, but I have a newfound admiration of the physical requirements of our armed services. I was impressed with what they have to do and be prepared for.” Hamon serves as the honorary commander for the 97th Maintenance Division.

After taking time to recover from the workout, the honorary commanders began their educational training day with a visit from U.S. Air Force Col. Todd Hohn, 97th Air Mobility Wing commander. “I want to welcome you all to Altus Air Force base and to let you know that we thank you – for your support of our service members and the military overall. I hope today gives you a little more insight into what we do every day,” said Hohn. “The men and women of Altus AFB are fortunate to be part of such a dedicated and caring community.”

The commander’s welcome was followed by a brief from the Airman Leadership School commandant. This gave the honorary commanders more insight into Air Force history, the enlisted force structure and the various customs and courtesies they will encounter as part of the wing.

Jill Owenby, marketing director for the Southwest Technology Center and honorary commander for the 97th Air Mobility Wing Director of Staff said she was impressed with the overall execution of the mission at Altus. “From this experience I learned so much about the mission of Altus AFB,” said Owenby. “From the mechanics keeping the planes in the sky to the air traffic controllers keeping our air space safe, we learned how different squadrons work together, and the processes our base takes to ensure our tax dollars are hard at work keeping us civilians safe!”

The group then boarded a bus to take a tour of the base and see some of its Airmen at work. Their first stop was to the top of the control tower to get an overall picture of the installation from the catwalk.

“What a view!” said Hamon. “We were able to watch C-17’s taking off and learn how the air traffic controllers work to keep everything in order and safe. It’s truly amazing to see from that vantage.”

Next the group headed to a hangar to observe the Maintenance Directorate, or A-team, showcasing their award-winning maintenance operations. Equipped with a KC-135 Stratotanker and a C-17 Globemaster III inside the hangar, the civics were able to speak to personnel about the aircraft while exploring the jets up close.

Afterward, the honorary commanders took turns flying a KC-135 – in flight simulators at the formal training center for the tanker aircraft. They toured the facility and tested their piloting skills with some inflight refueling in the boom operator simulator.

“The training facilities for the simulators were immaculate,” said Owenby. “I cannot believe the amount of people who come through Altus, even for short periods of time, to learn to fly and operate a boom! It was really neat to see!”

This was followed by lunch at the Hangar 97 dining facility, and stops at the Medical Group, Aircrew Flight Equipment and Aerial Operations. The day ended at a wing promotion ceremony, where civics got to experience the culmination of what they had learned through the entire day.

“The honorary commander boot camp was amazing,” said Owenby. “Altus AFB had a wonderful and informative day planned for everyone involved. I got to learn so much about Altus AFB that I have never known in the 36 years of living in Altus, ‘Wow’ really is a word I would use to describe the day!”

Hohn again expressed his gratitude for the large role the community plays in the day-to-day lives of the Airmen stationed at Altus. “Thank you. Thank you for opening your doors to the folks here at Altus Air Force Base,” said Hohn. “The continued partnership between the city and the base is only growing stronger with the help of people like yourselves.”

The honorary commander program began in 2001 at Altus, with 12 appointed civic members. Representing the full spectrum of community affiliations, including business, educational, non-profit, municipal and professional organizations, they serve approximately two year terms, with the offices growing to encompass most unit commands on the installation. This is a benefit to the transitory nature of military life. “With Altus AFB Leadership turning over every few years I feel it is not only important to introduce new commanders to the community, but allowing them the opportunity to work with established leaders in the community,” said Owenby. “I feel this bridges Altus and Altus Air Force Base in the form of information and relationships.”