Dover Air Force Base Commander Col. Rick Moore let the civic leaders selected as honorary commanders for 2013 know that they were viewed by DAFB as legitimate partners during the base's induction ceremony held Saturday night at the Air Mobility Command Museum.
"It's so important to us to maintain the community relationship that we have" Moore said. "The community relationship with Dover is the best I've ever seen in my career. This is a large part of maintaining that. And it goes so far [in good times and in bad].
The U.S. Air Force developed the honorary commander program to immerse community leaders in Air Force culture – including its missions, customs and traditions, Dover Air Force Base Chief of Community Relations Jennifer Vallee said. It started in Dover in 1992.
This year, more than 20 of Delaware's distinguished civic and political leaders were partnered with base senior leadership from the 436th Airlift Wing, the 512th Airlift Wing, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and the Joint Personal Effects Depot, Vallee said. For the next year, these honorary commanders will learn about Dover's missions and vital role in national defense.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for us to partner with the local community and also for the local community members to learn something about each other," said Moore, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing. "For us, it recognizes the contributions of community partners by bringing them in and showing them what we do and making them proud of the base because they have the knowledge to share with their friends."
City of Dover, Kent County and state officials along with business executives from locally based companies were among the honorary commanders at the Air Mobility Command Museum Saturday night in Dover – a veritable who's who list. They hobnobbed during the cocktail hour with their assigned DAFB officers as the Dover High School jazz band played in the background. Then, they sat down to break bread.
Among the honorary commanders was Citizens Bank business banking officer Dawne Nickerson, of Dover. She and fiancé Tom Banez waited in the cocktail line with DAFB Lt. Col. Heather Cook and her husband, Robert.
'It's a great opportunity," Nickerson said. "I think it's just the best blend of both communities, because we're such an integral part of each other anyway."
Nickerson said that it was also nice to be part of the honorary commanders program as a former military member who served in the U.S. Navy.
Col. Cook said the program not only allowed the community to understand what the U.S. Force airmen do but also allowed officers to learn something from community members with an ear to the ground.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's important to Dover that the city to have a positive understanding of what we bring to the city and what we bring to the nation," she said.
Kent County Economic Development Director Jim Waddington, serving as an honorary commander for the second year in a row, said he looked forward to participating in more activities on the base. This year, he was paired with Lt. Col. James Kodat, commander of the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
"It's really been enjoyable," Waddington said. "I came in a week ago for a three-hour tour and it was very informative."
Col. D. Scott Durham, commander of the 512th Operations Group, was paired with Wesley College President Dr. William Johnston. Durham said the program did a good job of pairing U.S. Air Force officers with civilians from all facets of society.
"Bill Johnston obviously represents the academic portion," Durham said. "A lot of the kids in my unit are actually in the reserves because they're trying to earn money for an education. I think that linkage, where I have access to the president of the college, gives me a unique perspective. Those kinds of linkages probably wouldn't be made if we didn't have this."
Durham and his wife, Jennifer, sat at the same table with Johnston and his wife, Susan, at the Air Mobility Command Museum.
Dr. Johnston said, all in all, the program was "a wonderful gesture."
"We understand the Dover Air Force Base; they understand what we have to offer in the community," he said. "So, it strengthens our whole state by doing this."