MilCon spotlights DAFB projects

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE — Dover Air Force Base is set to finish runway construction by the end of next year, will open its revamped dining facility this month and has plans to build both a hangar for repairs and a new school within the next three years, officials said with pride Monday.

More than 100 military members, business proponents and state and local leaders gathered at the base for the annual Military Construction, or MilCon, breakfast. Sponsored by the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, the event exists to highlight relationships between the base and the community. Those attending also could tour the base to see construction projects taking place.

Col. Michael Grismer Jr. provided an overview of the base and its people, while politicians touted the installation for its impact on and close relationship with the state.

Though the Air Force is smaller than it is has been in decades, its duties remain critically important, and the branch is involved in efforts all over the world, said Col. Grismer, the commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at the base.

“There’s never been a better time to be an airman,” he said.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons noted almost 1,400 men and women were deployed out of the base in the past year, heading to 25 countries in total.

The base’s Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, the only Department of Defense mortuary in the United States, also plays a vital, yet often overlooked, role. It has received more than 2,400 bodies in the past five years.

Between the 436th and the 512th airlift wings, more than 6,000 men and women serve at the base, making it the fifth-largest employer in the state. It has an economic impact of about $630 million and contributed $38.8 million to small businesses in the previous fiscal year.

“This is an incredibly important place in our state,” Gov. Jack Markell said.

On the list of priorities for the base is a hangar that can be used in the event of surprise inclement weather.

“We’re the only base in Air Mobility Command that doesn’t have a pull-in hangar for unscheduled maintenance,” Col. Grismer said.

Ongoing projects

The runway, which has been under construction for nine months, is set to be re-opened by August. Work on the north-south runway 01-19 is a bit behind schedule but otherwise going smoothly, as contractors fix drainage issues and raise the concrete by at least a foot in some spots on the 70-year-old stretch.

Once construction on the 9,600-foot runway is done, engineers and builders will develop a ramp for the intersection of 01-19 and runway 14-32, needed due to the slight increase in height currently being implemented.

The runway should then be fully finished by the end of 2016. In all, the project costs about $100 million.
While that’s by far the largest project taking place over the next few years, it’s not the only thing team Dover is doing. Other construction is set or already has begun in an effort to improve facilities and quality of life for the men and women who work and live at the base.

Two dorms will be modernized, at a cost of $5.6 million, and a newly renovated cafeteria is set to begin serving meals once more.

Patterson Dining Facility will open within three weeks, allowing airmen to grab meals on the go and eat healthier and (base officials hope) tastier food.

About 30 percent of meal plans were not fully utilized, spurring officials to seek efforts to increase flexibility and potentially even improve morale.

“If we do this very well I suspect the (Department of Defense) will look at us as a model,” said operations officer Maj. Jake Wygant.

Food ranging from smoothies to salads to Mongolian cuisine soon will be available, and not just at the one facility. Airmen will be able to grab meals from different venues around the base’s campus.

As for Patterson, it’s updated and upgraded, with new machines and food stations, as well as wall designs that tell the story of the base through pictures.

Community life

Officials are looking to replace George S. Welch Elementary School, the on-base facility, although some details have yet to be finalized.

Col. Grismer also pointed to various partnerships between the base and the community, including initiatives enabling local families to host airmen for Thanksgiving dinner, police officers to use the base’s shooting range and women to receive mobile checks for breast cancer.

Innovation is as important as ever, Col. Grismer said, stressing the Air Force’s attempts to develop new programs and strategies, both in civilian and military life.

Among the men and women present for the breakfast and tour Monday was Dover resident David Hurley, who said he always tries to make it to the event. Mr. Hurley, who received the title of honorary commander from the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, had his interest in the Air Force piqued through his father, a former member of the civil service at the base.

“I loved Dover Air Force Base and I had a lot of ties to it,” he said.

He was far from the only one who enjoyed the gathering.

All three members of Delaware’s congressional delegation spoke of their respect for the Air Force and praised the men and women of the base for their role in confronting new kinds of threats, ranging from the Islamic State to hackers.

“People say, ‘Well, there’s not much good going on in this country.’ Well, if they only knew,” Sen. Tom Carper said.

“If they only knew the good that’s going on right here, they would feel a whole lot better about the United States.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.