04/15/18 — Friends of Seymour Johnson gather for Gala

View Archive

Friends of Seymour Johnson gather for Gala

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 15, 2018 3:05 AM


Commander of the 12th Air Force and former 4th Fighter Wing commander Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly speaks Thursday night during the fifth annual Friends of Seymour Johnson Gala.

Full Size


Matthew Herrmann, senior adviser for The Roosevelt Group, gives a briefing about the defense department's budget and its effects on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The strong relationship between the Goldsboro community and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is unique in the Air Force, Lt. Gen. Mark D. Kelly, commander, 12th Air Force, said.

Be proud of it, embrace it, he told the more than 250 people attending Thursday night's fifth annual Friends of Seymour Johnson AFB Gala, held at the Maxwell Center.

It is, he said, a relationship that will serve the community well.

Kelly, former commander of the 4th Fighter Wing at the base, and Matthew Herrmann, senior adviser at the Roosevelt Group, told the audience that community support is vital to the base's continued success.

"So, thanks for unconditionally loving our airmen here at home," Kelly said. "Airmen away for their spouse, their sons, their daughters for six months at a time -- they do so that other people they have never met are not away from their spouses, sons and daughters. So thanks for putting your arms around your Goldsboro airmen.

"Thanks for embracing them as your neighbors, your friends, your own sons and daughters. Thanks for being there when they, or their families left behind, need a hand. Thanks for giving them a home they can come back to."

The airmen work for 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Christopher Sage, but they and their families go to local schools, Kelly said.

"They live in your neighborhoods," he said. "They dine in Goldsboro restaurants. They shop in your local community."

Kelly said the airmen's experience with the community probably will not be for as long as that of he and his family's, but is still one the airmen will remember.

"It is that community you provide that resonates with an airman's memories of their time," he said.

Communities like Goldsboro are part of an airman's journey and will reflect on that journey, he said.

Not all of that journey will be positive but the time they spend in Goldsboro will be some of their best memories, Kelly said.

Kelly said it was some 14 years ago then he was a new squadron commander at the base where he had a group of young, overly energetic lieutenants.

The officers had what was referred to as a morale vehicle -- an old ambulance that they had put the siren and emergency lights back in working order.

"It was good. No, not all good," Kelly said. "You see when you take a bunch of lieutenants that are unruly, you observe them at a few of the Greenville bars, you introduce them to the very nice coed at ECU.

"The young lieutenants feel inclined to impress them with their awesome vehicle ... then drive it onto campus things don't turn out so good."

Campus police were not remotely impressed with a non-emergency vehicle displaying emergency lights, Kelly said.

Kelly asked why that mattered to the audience.

When you are in legal trouble you need a lawyer, he said.

"We are a fighter squadron," he said. "We don't exactly hold anyone on retainer for such stupidity. So the only lawyer I knew was Henry Smith and he parachutes in to save the day.

"Why does that matter? Why it matters is that one act serves as an example of a thousand acts that happen every day where the Goldsboro community unconditionally supports Seymour Johnson and the airmen."

Kelly said that Smith did not ask why when he was called, it simply sufficed that he was needed.

Kelly said the reason he was at the gala was because Jimmie Edmundson, Friends of Seymour Johnson AFB chairman, and Smith, a member of the organization, asked him to come.

"I didn't ask them why. I just asked them where and when," he said.

Two aviators from the base were lost in Afghanistan on July 18, 2009. There is a protocol to follow as to whom to inform, in what order and what to tell them, he said.

The mayor of Goldsboro is not on the list, but in Goldsboro it was a no-brainer to call the mayor, Kelly said.

"I had lost two aviators and because of the unique relationship of this community and this base and these airmen, I called the mayor," he said. "When I called Mayor Al King I told him Goldsboro had lost two sons. Beside being a phenomenal mayor, King is a fellow airman."

Kelly said that whenever King calls him, regardless of we here he is, that all he needs to know is that King needs him.

"That is the kind of relationship this town, this community, this base and these airmen have," Kelly said.

Kelly provided a snapshot of what airmen do every day -- things far removed from the headlines and that do not get covered because they do not make the evening news.

Yet airmen, such as those at Seymour Johnson, perform these duties every day, he said.

Their average age is 23, Kelly said.

"That is what your Goldsboro airmen do every day," he said. "Again, it is away from the headlines and away from the cameras. That is what they are doing tonight as we sit here tonight enjoying this company."

Herrmann provided a look at the defense department budget and efforts underway to support and enhance the base's mission.

The company represents a wide range of clients on congressional appropriations and authorization matters, federal budget process, strategic planning, strategic communications, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and Indo-Asia-Pacific policy matters.

Herrmann, too, commented on the size of the crowd.

"That type of support is a great signal to the congressional delegation that there is support out there," Herrmann said. "Showing strong support and staying engaged... makes a difference.

"Air Force leaders look for this type of positive support because it makes the hard decisions they have to make easier when they know they are not going to have a lot of opposition, but rather active support."

Herrmann said when he mentions BRAC that everyone is scared. He said he does not expect there will be another BRAC for at least two years.

Community involvement is absolutely critical to the process, he said.

"Seymour Johnson is in as great spot," Herrmann said. "You are a crown jewel. That said, don't think you can just kind of sit down and go, 'OK we're good, we're good, we're fine.' The problem is without a BRAC there is what you call a stealth BRAC.

"There is a whole lot of moving of missions here and there behind the scenes that don't require Congress' action per se. They are happening in the (defense) department because they are looking to find savings."

There are communities across the country looking to gain the base's mission, he said.

So while there may not be a BRAC looming Herrmann said it is important to stay engaged all of the time to enhance what goes on at Seymour Johnson AFB to advance the mission and possibly secure new ones.