Community support essential to military success

  • Published
  • By Airman Kelsey Martinez
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Throughout the years, the 914th Air Refueling Wing’s vision has shifted to successfully complete the Air Force’s mission. However, the mission to recruit, train and retain an unrivaled force ready to fly, fight and win tonight, has remained constant.  The 914th has seen times of prosperity and times where the base has faced potential closure, but there is one thing that has been made certain during these transformational periods of growth; the continuous support from the local community.

The Niagara Military Affairs Council’s mission is to support the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station’s military; past, present and future.

John Cooper, NIMAC chairman, spoke on how the organization serves as a liaison to promote communication between the base, community, other local military units, local businesses and government agencies. Along with, advocating for NFARS, and helping create a strategic plan on how to maintain and help the base continue to grow.

“It’s our job to speak on behalf of the base and what it has to offer the Air Force,” he said. “We are here to help protect the base.”

Niagara Falls ARS is the largest employer in Niagara County, employing nearly 3,000 people. Providing rapid worldwide refueling, agile combat support, and technical expertise are just a few of the distinctive capabilities of NFARS.  Therefore, it is imperative to have a group of dedicated individuals who are willing and able to advocate for the base in the instance that it is put on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations list issued by the Department of Defense.

On several occasions NIMAC has proven that it is more advantageous to keep the base open than it would be to close it, said Cooper.

On December 10, NIMAC leadership and civic leaders from Western New York joined the 914th ARW on a Civic Leaders Tour to March Air Reserve Base, Calif. in hopes of providing an experience to help connect and educate community leadership on the largest Air Force Reserve Command installation; 4th Air Force, and how it ties into our mission here in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

 “There is such a small percentage of people who have served in the military, therefore there are so few people who truly understand what it is that we do,” said Col. Mark Larson, 914th ARW commander. “This is a great opportunity to provide people with a first-hand experience of what we do.”

The tour commenced with a trip across the country in a KC-135 Stratotanker, an aerial refueling aircraft from the 914th. For many of the attendees, this was their first time boarding a military aircraft.

“This is definitely a once in a lifetime trip for me,” said Margaret Murray, Military Family Assistance Specialist for N.Y. National Guard Family Practice. “I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this.”

The KC-135 provided aerial refueling to a Boeing E-3 Sentry, commonly known as AWACS which is an airborne early warning and control aircraft, during the flight. This gave the tour participants an opportunity to crawl down into the boom pod with one of the boom operators to see first-hand what it takes to successfully complete a refueling mission.

“I feel like a little kid in a candy shop,” said Jonathan Schultz, Director of Emergency Services and Fire Coordinator of Niagara County. “I’m excited for the tours once we get on base, but this experience on the plane has already made the whole trip worth it.”

Once on March ARB, the group took part in a tour of the Joint Regional Deployment Center, followed by a tour of the March Field Air Museum. They were encouraged to take as many pictures and videos as they wanted, and to ask questions throughout the tours.  The night ended with a dinner social at the museum where leadership from March ARB, 914th ARW, and civic leaders from California and New York spoke on behalf of the importance of this trip.

As the year comes to an end, I just want to recognize all the great support we get from the community, said Maj. Gen. Randall Ogden, 4th Air Force commander.

The following day, the tour continued as the participants went to the Air and Marine Operations Center. It was here that each member received a U.S. Department of Homeland Security challenge coin.

As the tour came to an end Holly Curcione, NIMAC executive director, presented two lucky participants with one last surprise.

“The opportunities are out there, but you will never know if you don’t become involved,” said Larson.

Bill Vanecek, Director of Aviation for Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, was randomly selected to ride in the cockpit during take-off. Bill Wagner, NIMAC vice chairman, was selected to ride in the cockpit during landing.

These are experiences that will never be forgotten, said Larson. Stories about this trip will be shared with family, friends and all throughout the community for years to come; that in itself is the best way to relay the Air Force’s message.