ALTUS, Okla. --
As we eagerly await the arrival of the first KC-46A Pegasus to be delivered to the 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus Air Force Base, I reflect on our efforts that made this day possible.
Altus has seen its share of delays and struggles with acquiring aircraft for training at the base. In 2001, Congress authorized the Air Force to take a look at leasing aircraft from contactors to recapitalize the tanker fleet, called the Tanker Lease program. When that happened, we met with our elected delegation to develop a strategy to influence the decision for the bed down of the new weapon system at Altus. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe received commitments of support from at least two Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force that this program would come to Altus for training.
Unfortunately, the Tanker Lease program ended with multiple legal problems, and so the Air Force started over with a new bidding process to craft a new weapons system. Initially the Northrop Grumman Airbus proposal won. However, after objections filed by Boeing, another decision was issued with Boeing being the winner. We again started over on our plans to bring the delayed program to Altus.
In 2005, when (then) Col. Dewey Everhart was the wing commander at the 97th Air Mobility Wing, I remember working a 95-million dollar military construction request. After all the delays, a new process for selecting bases was instituted by the Air Force. The Strategic Basing Process was proposed as an attempt to take politics out of the decisions for basing new missions.
The program considered criteria ranging from airspace, weather and available runways to choose appropriate locations for basing aircraft. Also, the cost of bedding down the mission was a vital piece of the decision. When the C-17 Globemaster III was coming to Altus, we were able to work with the installation to help fix many infrastructure needs on and off the base. With the new process, there were many different considerations including what needed to be done with infrastructure before selections. If not planned carefully, the base could potentially price themselves out of the mission. We had to rethink the military construction needs to support a potential new mission.
In 2012, we formed seven action teams to prepare for the Strategic Basing Process. They were Education, Housing, Public Relations, City/County Government, Federal Delegation, Trifold and City Cleanup. Each of these action groups was led by a city leader and prepared us for the basing process that would include the inspection. Every year during Quail Breakfast week, we worked with our delegation and Air Force senior leaders to highlight what Altus Air Force Base could do for training. We emphasized the colocation of C-17, KC-135 and KC-46A was crucial for efficiencies in training. We had the air space and ramp space, in addition to a community that loves the Air Force.
It was a great day when our hard work came to fruition – then Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James came to Altus in 2014 to announce Altus Air Force Base would stand up the KC-46A Pegasus Formal Training Unit. Even with assurances this determination would strengthen Altus against possible base relocation and closure decisions, the community decided to continue to take care of the Airmen, prevent encroachment and support our delegation.
One of the most humbling days of my life was when the Air Force stood up the 56th Air Refueling Squadron and opened the Leverett Flight Training Center. I’m still shocked that then wing commander, Col. Todd Hohn, and Gen. Everhart were able to make it happen. I still worry that I’ll die soon, since buildings are usually only named after folks who have already passed on. Of course, it was the joint effort of the whole community of Altus and my mentors in the Military Affairs Committee that made it happen. I was just fortunate enough to help lead the charge. Just as easily the FTC chould have been named the James M. Inhofe building, because it might not have happened without his persistence. How proud he must be as he delivers that first KC-46A Pegasus to the Mighty 97th.
I’ve lived nearly my entire life in this community - I began kindergarten and graduated high school in Altus, Oklahoma. My goal was to become a physician and come back to Altus, which I have done. I always dreamed I would contribute to making Altus a better place to live and raise my family. I’ve worked hard for the people of this community and the brave men and women of the Air Force, training to provide global reach here in Altus. I hope I have done some good and look forward to continuing the fight for our community and our Airmen.