Honorably Commanding: A series on Altus AFB Honorary Commanders

  • Published
  • By A1C Jackson N Haddon
  • 97 Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Who is an honorary commander and what do they do? In order to understand what being an honorary commander means and what their role is on Altus AFB and in the community, it is helpful to look to remarkable past and present individuals who have served in the program.

Barbara Burleson, a former honorary commander for the 97th Civil Engineer Squadron and 97th Mission Support Group, served 10 years as an honorary commander and contributed untold amounts of expertise to the program from the day she started. However, her connection to Altus AFB runs deeper.

“Initially, I lived in Norman, Oklahoma. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 and was looking for a job,” said Burleson. “I was drawn to Altus because my parents lived here. My father served as the base commander for Altus Air Force Base in 1972 and retired here in 1974. I discovered that the city of Altus was looking for a planning director, so I came down here to give that a shot in 2001.” 

Burleson was raised by her father, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Aaron C. “Burley” Burleson, a former Altus AFB base commander and later vice wing commander. When she became an Honorary Commander, she wanted to go was to the 97th CES to observe the daily operations of the installation.

“I first became an honorary commander for the 97th CES,” said Burleson. “Then, during the next round, I became an honorary commander for the 97th MSG because the main MSG building is named after my father. During that time, I was there for three MSG Commanders.” 

An honorary commander is a member of the community who is selected to learn about the Air Force through a particular unit and then educate the community on the Air Force mission, particularly what we do here at Altus.

During her 10-year tenure as an honorary commander, Burleson participated in several civic leader trips to other Air Force installations, learning from not just the bases but the communities as well.

“We went out to a lot of different places to get the perspective of Altus versus Colorado, Washington, Washington State and others,” said Burleson. “It gave us perspective about what’s going on in the Air Force and its communities.”

Burleson encourages others to be a part of this program, pointing out the benefits not only to the local community, but to the Air Force members whose lives they become a part of.

“Aside from working with other honorary commanders, you get to know the families of Air Force members and stay lifelong friends with them while helping and welcoming them to the community,” said Burleson. “I always believe when you help the family, you help the commander focus on and complete their mission. That’s what makes an honorary commander so important.”

For Burleson, some particular moments stick out from her time in the program.

“I feel most valued when a commander’s family leaves and they thank you for the impact you made on them,” said Burleson, “After working hard to make them feel welcomed.”

The honorary commanders program of Altus AFB gives community members the chance to see the life of those serving in the Air Force and serves to greater improve community relations between Altus AFB and the community of Southwest, Oklahoma. To become an honorary commander, contact Altus Air Force Base Public Affairs Community Engagement section at (580) 481-7700.