A time of transition at Fairchild
By JAMES EIK
The last two weeks have been extremely active at Fairchild Air Force Base, with the change of command taking place Monday, Aug. 6.
Former commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Col. Paul Guemmer departed for Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, while Col. Brian Newberry assumed command. Newberry was the former commander of the 376th Expeditionary Operations Group at the Transit Center in Manas, Kyrgyz Republic.
Prior to his departure, Guemmer met with members of the media to discuss his time at Fairchild. Newberry held a similar session Monday, Aug. 13.
Right from his first day at Fairchild, Guemmer faced a busy two years.
The base would begin preparations for a series of major inspections toward the end of 2010, then transition into planning for a runway shutdown that would last throughout much of 2011. Among the challenges when Guemmer first stepped into the role was the base's operations tempo.
“It was really finding that balance between how much effort we put into polishing programs and making sure everything is in compliance, and balancing the personal needs of people who are deploying all the time, so they have time to spend with their families in between deployments,” he said.
Reconstructing the runway last year remains one of the base's best achievements, he said.
“For 11 months of 2011, we were operating out of Moses Lake and Spokane International while we completely demolished the old runway and built it from base all the way up,” he said. “To be able to rebuild a 14,000-foot runway, 150-foot wide in less than 11 months is a pretty amazing achievement. It's something that really will be the centerpiece to the future of Fairchild.”
Arriving at Fairchild after working in Washington, D.C., the foremost difference was felt first in community relations. Working with organizations like Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Lilac Festival and Hometown Heroes proved to be a highlight of his time in the Spokane area.
“I had heard rumors about how healthy that relationship was, but until you actually get here and experience and see how engaged the community is with Fairchild, you don't really get an appreciation for that,” he said.
Guemmer also faced challenges over the past two years that stretched outside of the base's boundaries. Concerns regarding encroachment from the Spokane Tribe Economic Plan eventually led to a column, published by several media outlets, regarding the definition of encroachment. Talks of budget cuts stemming from sequestration in the U.S. Congress also entered the picture in the past year, along with a potential Base Realignment and Closure round, which could impact the base.
Those issues, while potentially having major impacts on the base, are outside of its jurisdiction. The base isn't able to comment on them, as they are either local matters or decisions being made at higher levels within the Air Force.
Moving from one part of the country to the other, with his wife Cindy as a supporting companion, is just part of the job. Growing up in a military family helped with that mindset.
“I came into the family business,” he said. “We both understand what it takes to be part of the active duty military and we understand that there is a commitment to a lot of moves and locations. I go where the country tells me, where they need me.”
Even through all of the moves, Guemmer maintains a positive outlook as he begins a new assignment in Illinois.
“Everywhere I've gone there's a positive. If you spend enough time looking for the positive, it's all about the attitude you go in with. Even a year deployed in the Middle East, there's positives there,” he said.
After serving 21 years in the Air Force, Newberry is settling in to his new role as the commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild.
Although admittedly he's a C-17A pilot at heart, flying KC-135 Stratotankers, the planes used for Fairchild's mission, isn't foreign territory for Newberry. He flew several missions with KC-135s in Manas, where a large portion of Fairchild's airmen are deployed.
Projects continuing at Fairchild include the construction of a new headquarters building, although a different entity is taking point on that.
During his first week, aside from the usual orientation one would expect, Newberry has made it a point to visit with the four operations groups within the 92nd Air Refueling Wing. He also visited with the National Guard unit on base, and has plans to meet with the survival school next week.
“Really over the last week, it's been learning about the different groups here,” he said.
In the midst of the transition includes his family, wife Jill and sons Mark and Matthew. Even through his deployment in Manas last year, and several moves, Newberry said his family has remained strong and a cornerstone in his work.
“I have a resilient family,” he said. “They are good kids and I hope that they realize down the road, they'll get accolades from me, but that they're as patriotic as they come.”
Among Newberry's goals includes the possible revival of the SkyFest air show, which was canceled this year due to budget constraints. Continuing to strengthen the already healthy bond with the 141st Air Refueling Wing on base is another priority that will drive the next couple of years.
Growing up, and even when he enlisted 21 years ago, Newberry said the Cold War was at the forefront of the nation's fight. One of the biggest days in his life was the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the Winter Olympics.
Even though the enemy has changed to fighting terrorism, Newberry remains dedicated to protecting the nation, and the men and women serving in the armed forces. For him, safety is the top priority.
“The enemy out there is even more dangerous,” he said. “We can come up with a missile shield to defend against missiles. But it's so much harder to defend against terrorists in a marketplace or a mall. To the degree that that's the fight of my generation now; to make it a better place for my kids to be, I'll do everything I can.”
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.