20th Annual Altus Air Force Base Cattle Drive

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jeremy Wentworth
  • 97 AMW/PA

Cattle running through an Air Force Base might seem unusual, but in Altus this is a tradition that has been happening for 20 years.

Approximately 30 longhorn cattle are transported to Altus AFB every year to walk the streets of the base alongside horses and their riders. The event kicks off the Great Plains Stampede Rodeo and celebrates one of the more unique community relationships in the military.

“This only happens here,” said Col. William Mickley, commander of the 97th Operations Group. “This is one of the great things about being stationed in Altus. We get to bring the community out here along with the horses and steers; where else in the world can you do something like that?”

Airmen and civilian personnel on base wait outside their workplace for a chance to see the cattle run through base. The parade of cattle and horses stop at a few locations, including Rivers Elementary to give the children a chance to see cattle up close.

Horses are used to guide the cattle, and among the riders are the 97th Air Mobility Wing commanders.

Commanders on horseback work with the rodeo professionals to guide the cattle around the installation; but that’s not to say that some commanders aren’t professionals in this area as well.

Mickley isn’t a stranger to riding horseback.

“I wouldn’t say I’m too experienced,” chuckled Mickley. “I’d just say I’ve been on a horse a few times.”

Even though this wasn’t his first time at this event, Mickley still recognized how unique it was.

“There are not too many communities that have rodeos anymore,” said Mickley. “Not only do we get to have one in town, but they invite us out into the town and we invite them on base and we’re allowed to be such a big part of it. It really speaks to the ties we have to the community.”

For some commanders, the cattle drive wasn’t the only unique opportunity of the week.

Mr. Kelly Bailey, commander of the 97th Maintenance Group, experienced his first cattle drive.

“I’ve been in the Air Force for 27 years, been overseas a couple of times and lived across the United States,” said Bailey. “This is the most unique opportunity I’ve ever seen. We really get the opportunity to get into the community and see what they have to offer us.”

Unlike Mickley, Bailey doesn’t have experience on horseback.

“My first opportunity to check off ‘ride a horse’ on my bucket list was last week in preparation for this event,” said Bailey. “I was a little apprehensive at first but at the cattle sorting competition among commanders I didn’t come in last, so I learned fast.”

The cattle sorting event occurred a week before the cattle drive and challenged commanders to sort the most cattle into the right areas in their allotted time limit.

Fortunately for the non-equine inclined, there’s a quick crash course on horseback riding during their saddle fitting to make sure the commanders are ready to go.

“They have us do a fitting earlier in the week for the saddles,” said Mickley. “Luckily for us they give us 45 minutes to an hour to get comfortable on horseback before the cattle sorting starts. That’s where we learn how to ride.”

There are traits that every commander must have; loyalty, intuition and understanding to name a few. While serving at Altus, the ability to ride a horse falls onto that list. 20 years after the inception of the cattle drive, the 97th Air Mobility Wing commanders still find themselves beside members of the Altus community in an event unique to Altus AFB.