A team effort: Community support has Dover Air Force Base flying high

Kelly Barrett, wife of 18th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Sam Barrett, assists Chef Robbie Jester, High 5 Hospitality culinary director, during a Dorm to Gourm class last Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base. The class teaches airmen how to cook healthy and affordable meals in their dorm rooms. U.S. Air Force photo/Mauricio Campino

DOVER — Life in the United States Air Force isn’t just about climbing aboard enormous aircraft and flying to some of the farthest reaches of the globe.

Maj. Gen. Sam C. Barrett, commander of the 18th Air Force (the only Numbered Air Force in Air Mobility Command) at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois — which oversees the 436th and 512th Airlift Wings at Dover Air Force Base — said life for young airmen, as well as older ones and their families, is about maintaining a delicate balance in the face of deployment, long work shifts and answering the world’s call in times of crisis.

Maj. Gen. Barrett should know. After all, he has been married to his wife, Kelly, ever since the beginning of Desert Storm, for nearly 30 years now.

Maj. Gen. Sam C. Barrett

During a visit to Dover Air Force Base last week, the Barretts said one of the keys to finding that life balance is discovering a place and becoming a part of the local communities where they serve.

“It’s so important,” Maj. Gen. Barrett said. “When you have airmen, some of whom are brand-new youngsters that are away from home for the very first time, all the way up to folks like us, all of them have a need to be a part of a community.

“We ask a lot of our military members as they’re uprooting families and moving from place to place and all that, so when they can land in a community that makes it feel like home to them and welcomes them it just makes all the difference in the world — and they definitely have that here (at Dover), no doubt about it.”

Dover Air Force Base is home to 3,900 active duty military personnel, as well as 1,500 reservists and 1,000 civilians. It also supports about 5,100 family members.

Maj. Gen. Barrett has seen plenty of different bases as commander of the 18th Air Force, which ensures the Air Mobility Command’s readiness and sustainment of around 36,000 active duty, Air Force Reserve and civilian airmen at 12 wings and one standalone group. With more than 400 aircraft, 18th Air Force supports AMC’s worldwide mission of providing rapid global mobility to America’s armed forces through airlift, aerial refueling and aeromedical evacuation.

He has also seen that not every military installation has such a positive relationship with its surrounding community like DAFB has to the city of Dover.

“My advice that I tell airmen from the top on down is to engage the community right off the bat,” said Maj. Gen. Barrett. “We tell our leadership that sometimes these young airmen are still learning all the things the base has to offer, much less what’s downtown, so I think everything from when they come into their newcomer’s briefings being exposed to the activities that are available in Dover, Delaware, and all the fun things they can do — not just with things such as NASCAR and what’s going on in the city — but to get out and live in the community, is what we try to emphasize to them.

“It’s important all the way through, even when you’re a colonel or a chief master sergeant, the angst doesn’t drop when you move into a community with schools and houses, it actually magnifies because you could have older children.”

Mrs. Barrett raised the couple’s three children in the Air Force environment. She said that it is a constant juggling act, especially when an airman or family is transferred.

“When you get an assignment your first stop is, not necessarily in this order, but housing, education for your children and employment for spouses,” she said. “Those are the top (issues) and once they have found the house in the appropriate neighborhood so that their education is taken care of for their children, if they have children, then they’ll start reaching out trying to find a job for their spouses. Employment for the spouses, no matter what kind of employment it is, having the community support is just huge.

Staff Sgt. Alyssa Aschemann, center, 436th Aerial Port Squadron truck dock NCO in charge, explains to Maj. Gen. Sam Barrett, 18th Air Force commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Chris Simpson, 18th AF command chief, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., the development and use of the mobile cargo checking stations last Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik

“It can be a bit more challenging when they start getting into middle school. I like to say, ‘Little kids, little problems; Big kids, big problems,’ and it’s true.”

Mrs. Barrett also said one of those relocation challenges for spouses is state licensure. Not all states recognize licenses from other states, potentially creating a lengthy or expensive process to earn new licenses in their new home. Some of these career fields include medical professionals, teachers, attorneys and beauticians.

Since many states don’t recognize out-of-state licenses, spouses are required to recertify. These recertifications can take up to a year and potentially leave them underemployed or even unemployed during the process.

“Moving is not just a military issue,” Barrett said. “We are becoming a more global society, resulting in new opportunities and new challenges for dual-income families.”

Dover prides itself on being a ‘team’

There is something to be said about “Team Dover,” two words that recognize the valuable connection that Dover Air Force has with the community.

After all, Dover has won the coveted Abilene Trophy, which awards AMC community support, a record-tying three times. It last captured the honor in 2015.

Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, said the reasons are simple why the community supports the mission of Dover Air Force Base — and it’s not just about watching mammoth C-5s and C-17s stretching their wings over the city.

Ms. Diogo said there is a mutual respect and admiration between the community and its high-flying neighbors.

“It’s not just a base in our community, it’s a family,” Ms. Diogo said. “Here, we’re all one. We really truly are ‘Team Dover.’

“These folks (at DAFB) are our neighbors. They sit with us in church, their children go to school with our children, we shop in the same places, we eat at the same restaurants … it’s just so phenomenal.”

Mrs. Barrett said that having that kind of relationship with a community is something to be cherished and celebrated.

“That home away from home gives them a sense of being loved and being valued and that makes a difference in their lives,” said Mrs. Barrett. “That goes for the spouses, also. Their sense of community is so important because they can reach out and find support for their children.

“For us, it started when we were in Charleston (South Carolina). From the first couple of weeks of us showing up we had people calling us and welcoming us. The (operations) tempo was a little bit different, it was a little more back and forth, but we had so many things in the unit, great squadron support, not only the squadron, but outside in the community also. We had a lot of support and that makes a difference.”

Much of Dover’s support for its air base can be seen in volunteer efforts — which goes both ways.

John Greim, 436th Maintenance Squadron Isochronal Inspection Dock controller, explains to the 436th Airlift Wing honorary commanders, the isochronal inspection process and timeline of a C-5M Super Galaxy last Wednesday at Dover Air Force Base. Maintenance personnel gave the honorary commanders a guided tour of the aircraft, inside and out, while explaining the isochronal inspection process and schedule. U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik

Throughout 2018, Dover Air Force Base had more than 520 airmen volunteer at 20 community events, including: providing logistics for Special Olympics, Dover Days, Kent County Tourism Wine and Beer Festival, St. Patrick’s Day Parade and NASCAR races at the Dover International Speedway.

On the other hand, civilians often volunteer their time with the USO military support group and at the Air Mobility Command Museum on base.

“That museum, and the 100 volunteers that are there, the USO folks that volunteer to support the dignified transfers, I mean that’s extraordinary and they are all-in,” Maj. Gen. Barrett said. “They’re so proud of this base that they’re teaching our airmen the pride of what this base means. It’s a really powerful community here.”

He also tipped his hat to the Dover Air Force Base’s Honorary Commander Program, which began in 1992 as a way to match individuals from across the state with commanders from the 436th Airlift Wing, 512th AW, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, Joint Personal Effects Depot and the 373d Training Squadron, Detachment 3.

The program is a way to help members of the community understand the importance of Dover AFB’s and the Air Force’s mission. It also allows military commanders and their airmen to learn more about the community in which they live.

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of the honorary commanders just in the week that I’ve been here,” said Maj. Gen. Barrett. “That’s a concept we do across the 18th Air Force and the Air Force units. It’s a really important way to get the community connected with our young airmen. It’s great that they all talk to the senior leaders and we have relationships, but it gets them down in to see what’s going on.

“For example (last Wednesday), Colonel (Joel) Safranek (commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at DAFB) had a group of the honorary commanders touring the C-5 maintenance hangar and crawling around on the airplane and just kind of understanding all those things that are going on out here. When they can see that it helps them relate to the airmen, so that’s really a cool program.

“I had two or three of them mention to me how they’ve been around the Dover area all their lives and they’ve gone back and forth and they always knew the big picture of what goes on at the base, but they never saw how much was going on past the fence line. I think it’s just a really important program and they’re doing it well here.”

Success is also a family effort

Maj. Gen. Barrett said that while community support is invaluable, being able to meet the challenges of a demanding career in the Air Force can also be met with the help of family.

“One of the big things that I emphasize just in this ‘Commander’s Call’ that I did (at DAFB) is how important it is for our family members to be vested in our Air Force, not just our community, but our Air Force, so that they understand what mom and dad are doing and other sacrifices when they go away,” he said. “We have three kids who are older now and grown and they look back on that as just a such important part of their life and they feel like it’s their family, and when a community supports that it really makes it easy.”

Mrs. Barrett said things like deployment line exercises for children can be an important tool, because it provides them with experience and understanding of what their parents are enduring.

Tech. Sgt. William Martineau, 436th Aerial Port Squadron special handling supervisor, speaks with Maj. Gen. Sam Barrett, 18th Air Force commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Chris Simpson, 18th AF command chief, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, near the end of their tour of the Super Port last Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik

“It makes sure that the children are understanding of what their dad or their mother is going through, and it gives them ownership of what their dad or mom is doing,” she said. “If they can see what the airmen are doing then they can also therefore understand what the families are going through knowing their work hours and how hard they’re working and how much they’re gone … just the dedication it takes to do that job.”

The Barretts said deployment is the toughest reality of an airmen’s job, particularly when one has to leave a family behind for an extended period of time.

“I don’t like being away from Kelly and my family,” Maj. Gen. Barrett said. “It’s a hardship for I think any military member because you’re so close, going through the adversity that you deal with, and the military asks our airmen to do a lot. There’s been times when we’ve been separated, and it really started early in our career.

“Our first assignment was right into Desert Storm. That’s ancient history to a lot of the airmen here but for most of us sometimes it seems like yesterday. So, really from the very beginnings, all the way through, separations always have been a challenge for being away.”

He added, “For an airman to stay focused on their mission they need to know that their spouses are supported, and they’re taken care of and their kids are in good schools and there’s a support network that’s out there, and I think we’ve had that every step of the way.”

Mrs. Barrett agreed.

“They are gone and that’s the reality, but we find ways to cope and having that community support is huge,” she said. “It’s very obvious to the ones here that Dover is very, very involved and very supportive.”

DAFB remains a valuable hub

During his visit last week, Maj. Gen. Barrett said that Dover Air Force Base has a unique position within the AMC and that he doesn’t envision its mission to change anytime soon.

“Dover Air Force Base is one of the unique bases because it has two different types of strategic airlifters with the 18 C-5s and the 13 C-17s that they have on this base,” he said. “You have a big part of strategic airlift capability that exists out there. Because of Dover’s proximity to D.C., there’s also a lot of support that we do to the national capital region, to the president and the movements that happen in D.C.

“Airmen from Dover are also out there executing missions all over the world. Each and every day those C-17s are moving joint forces — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine forces — to the Centcom AOR, which is the bulk of our off-CONUS movements that happen (moves that start and end within the 48 contiguous states of the U.S.).

“But they’re also doing things like responding to hurricane relief and helping take rescue equipment to Argentina for the submarine disaster that this great wing helped to support … just a lot of cool things that maybe the citizens around Dover, they know broadly, but I just want them to understand the airmen that support and execute the mission in those big giant machines out there are doing the nation’s business all the time. I think it’s important for the community to know and be proud of — and they do.”

Civilians in Dover witness C-5s and C-17s flying over the city almost every day.

But they may not realize that Dover Air Force Base is situated on around 3,900 acres and the total value of its resources equals $5.7 billion. That approximate figure includes aircraft, capital assets such as land and buildings, equipment, retail sales, base operations and maintenance outlays.

The total economic impact DAFB has is about $466 million, which includes salaries, retiree pay, local contracts and local area expenditures within a 50-mile radius of the base.

“This is a very valuable hub for the United States,” Maj. Gen. Barrett said. “The United States of America is in many ways the world power for good that it is because we have the ability to move around the world in support of our Allies, to respond to humanitarian relief, to respond to crisis in the world, and the mobility that Dover provides and the strategic location that it’s in, it’s going to pay dividends for the country for a long time.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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