Commentary: Dover’s honorary commanders visit Vance AFB

Dover Air Force Base Honorary Commanders Sean Moriarty, Katrina Sullivan, and Ron Barisano stand in front of a T-1 at Vance Air Force Base with 3rd Flying Training Squadron Commander Lt. Col. John Masterson and pilot First Lt. Paul Dean.

In the fall of 2017, I had the honor of being inducted into the Honorary Commander program at Dover Air Force Base. The program continues to lead the charge in providing civic leaders like myself with enhanced knowledge and appreciation of the United States Air Force. Between Aug. 14 and 16, 2019, my fellow Team Dover honorary commanders and I had the privilege of flying to Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma in order to learn about pilot training, aircraft, and the airmen who fulfill those missions.

Our leader, Dawne Nickerson-Banez, spent several months working collaboratively with Colonel Joel Safranek, 436th Airlift Wing commander, Col. Corey Simmons, 71st Flying Training Wing commander, and the community engagement team at Vance AFB to provide us with an amazing experience. This required a tremendous amount of planning, coordination and teamwork.

On the afternoon of Aug. 14, we boarded our C-17 at Dover AFB to begin our three-day adventure. As we have become accustomed to at Dover, our flight crew provided us with a warm welcome and treated us like family. During our approximately three-hour flight, several honorary commanders had the opportunity to interact with the pilots in the cockpit. Others enjoyed spending time speaking and learning more about each other and our chaperones, Col. Tyler Schaff and Chief Master Sgt. Michael Zimmerman, representing the 436th Airlift Wing.

Once we landed at Vance, we received an enthusiastic welcome from Col. Simmons and his team. Upon exiting our plane, we were awed by the amount of static and active aircraft on base. We later learned that over 200 training flights per day occurred on base. After checking into our hotel, we enjoyed a great meal at Callahan’s Restaurant in downtown Enid, and then retired for the evening.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, five of us received an opportunity of a lifetime to fly in a T-1 Jayhawk on a training mission, while the others began a tour of base operations and life support systems. The five of us, who were selected for the training mission, responded to the 3rd Flying Training Squadron and received an extremely warm welcome from the squadron commander, Lt. Col. John Masterson and his instructional team.

After learning about each other, they provided us with a mission brief, divided us into two groups, and then led us to two T-1 airplanes. During our two-hour flights, we acquired greater knowledge about the training program, students, instructors, and the three different training planes: T-6, T-1, and T-38. We also experienced joint takeoffs, side-by-side aeronautics, simulated air refueling at a distance of 35 feet from each plane, and high-speed, low-level flying maneuvers. We could not have asked for better pilots during this amazing experience.

Upon completing the aforementioned flight, we joined the larger group, who were immersed in their tours. This included flying the T-6 in virtual reality and flying the T-1 in a simulator. Later that evening, Col. Simmons and his wife hosted us at their residence for a reception, which was followed by a dinner and reception on base with Vance civic leaders and Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander and Brig. Gen. Richard Moore, director of programs, office of the deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.

On Aug. 16, we checked out of our hotel, returned to Vance, and attended a graduation ceremony for two pilot classes. During that ceremony, we witnessed the enthusiasm and pride as two classes of airmen received their “wings.” It was an honorable and distinguished ceremony. Following graduation, we greeted many of the graduates and their families on our C-17 prior to flying safely back home to Dover.

Every event and aspect of the honorary commander program at Dover AFB has been tremendous. This was further evidenced by the phenomenal community relations tour we received at Vance AFB. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that have been provided to me as an honorary commander. More importantly, I applaud the exemplary service that every United States Air Force member provides to our great country in order to keep all of us safe. Thank you for everything that you do for us!

By Maj. Sean E. Moriarty, Ed. D., of the Delaware State Police, is a 436th Security Forces honorary commander with the Dover Air Force Base.

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