10/11/17 — Seymour Johnson Air Force Base leaders talk deployment, readiness

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Seymour Johnson Air Force Base leaders talk deployment, readiness

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 11, 2017 5:50 AM


Col. Christopher Sage, Commander of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson points to a slide during the State of the Military presentation at the Goldsboro Events Center Tuesday.

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Dr. Scott LaFevers, Military Affairs Committee chair, addresses the crowd during the State of the Military Tuesday.

Fourth Fighter Wing Commander Col. Christopher Sage apologized for the early morning noise.

But Col. Scovill Currin, 916th Air Refueling Wing commander, warned those attending Tuesday's State of the Military Program to expect even more noise as deployments from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base continue.

They, and Dr. Scott LaFevers, chairman of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee, spoke during the event sponsored by the Chamber and held at the Goldsboro Event Center.

"I want to apologize upfront because over the last couple of weeks you may have heard aircraft taking off about 4 a.m.," Sage said. "That is because we very discreetly launched the 336th Fighter Squadron off to combat.

"So that is 18 aircraft and about 500 airmen that are now at an undisclosed location in the Middle East."

They are taking the fight to ISIS hoping to put the last nail in defeating those who would prefer to come to the U.S. and fight, Sage said.

"But we are going to fight them in their backyard instead of our backyard," he said. "So very proud of the effort to get those 500 airmen out the door. A lot goes into moving that many people across the world, and the 916th had a part in that as they supplied some of the tankers for that event."

That means there are 200 to 300 married airmen whose families are left behind at the base, he said.

"I think that it is important to point out that while that squadron is now deployed, the rest of the base is on what is called a global response force. So we are on the string, if you will, for the next 'X' number of months.

"If something else was to happen in the world, we could get the call. So we are very well prepared for that mission. We are, just like the 916th, we tend to be the unit that gets the call when the balloon goes up as we say. We are ready to take it to the enemy if we are called to do so."

Currin said the 916th could have a tanker anywhere in the world within 16 hours and be on time, every time.

"Within the next couple of weeks our wing will go through the largest mobilization and deployment in unit history -- over 14 air crews and eight airplanes and another lead maintenance package," Currin said.

For reservists and any airmen any deployments are a big deal, but for reservists it is a huge deal since almost all of them have civilian employment, or they are going to school, Currin said.

"So when we ask them to go to the Middle East or the Pacific for two or three months every one of them has to go to an employer and coordinate that, get that time off to go," he said.

"For the first time ever Air Force Reserve Command is taking basically a whole unit up," he said. "Of course they came to the 916th because where do you go when you want it done right the first time?"

They leave in two weeks.

They will miss Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, Currin said.

For those who remain at the base, the training continues, Sage said.

"We continue to produce the nation's best and brightest pilots and back seaters for the F-15E," Sage said.

Also, work continues to upgrade the nearly 30-year-old fighter jets with new state-of-the-art equipment, he said.

While that is an ongoing project, the base is preparing for the arrival of the new KC-46A Pegasus tankers in 2020.

A $56.5 million contract has been awarded for a new hangar. Another contract worth $9 million will be used to modify four facilities on the base.

"And there is more coming," Currin said. "We are starting construction within months. This is a big deal. This is a big deal for everyone in this room."

Sage compared his role to that of Goldsboro Mayor Chuck Allen and City Manager Scott Stevens since running the base is similar to running a small city.

It is a small city with a population of 6,000 airmen, another 6,000 family members and another 10,000 retirees who touch the base at least once a month, Sage said.

"So we are excited about the prospects of finally getting the contract awarded for the tower," he said. "It has been a struggle to make those ends meet over there. It is a funded project, and now we just have to take it to the next step and award that contract.

"The tower that we have is about 50 years old. It has a very antiquated elevator system with no escape routes. So one thing that we have to do is train our airmen, put them in harnesses, and rappel down the side of the tower."

Sage what is also exciting is the eventual opening of the base's new medical clinic.

With the new clinic comes new initiatives including a possible partnering with Wayne UNC Health Care in the area of mental health, he said.

"We are going to go from having the oldest clinic in the Air Force to having the newest clinic in the Air Force hopefully sometimes in the next six months, but don't hold me to that," Sage said.

LaFevers said the local Military Affairs Committee is considered a model across the Air Force.

It started in the 1960s with about 50 members and now has more than 160 Chamber members dedicated to supporting the base, which ultimately supports the entire community, he said.

"Our mission is to maintain and improve the community's relationship with Seymour Johnson Air Force Base," he said.

It also includes learning about the operations and needs of the base and advocating for policy, procedures, infrastructure and environment to promote the importance of the base, LaFevers said.

The goal is to show the importance not only to the local community, but to the U.S. Department of Defense, he said.

It tackles political issues that the base's military leadership cannot be involved in as well, he said.

The committee also helps ensure there is a local voice on the state and national levels, LaFevers said.