Oklahoma: May 2005 Archives

Happy news from BRAC (not to be confused with Brak) -- none of Oklahoma's major military facilities will close, and in fact the number of military personnel in the state will increase by 3,448, plus another 474 civilians, nearly all at Fort Sill. Altus AFB will "be realigned" and will lose 16 people. Vance AFB gains about 100. Tinker gains over 300 civilian personnel. The Tulsa area will lose the reserve center near Broken Arrow and the Navy-Marine Corps Reserve Center, but will keep the Air National Guard Station at the airport. You can find the list of facilities and impacts, organized by state here. The Army Ammunition Plant near McAlester is gaining some new roles, too.

According to the detailed recommendations (PDF documents which you'll find linked from this page), the Altus realignment involves relocating a Logistics Readiness Squadron along with another at Little Rock AFB to a new Logistics Support Center at Scott AFB in Illinois. The Air Defense Artillery Center and School will move from Fort Bliss near El Paso to Fort Sill and be combined with the Field Artillery Center and School -- over 3,000 personnel will be involved in the move, which is expected to result in a net savings to the taxpayer of $319 million. The Red River Army Depot in Texas is closing -- the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant will pick up the storage, demilitarization, and munitions maintenance functions from Red River's munitions center, and Tinker AFB will gain the "storage and distribution functions and associated inventories of the Defense Distribution Depot."

Congratulations to our Oklahoma military bases and to the towns that depend on them.

Friday the 13th is going to be a very unlucky day for some number of cities near US military bases. That's the day that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) will announce its recommendations. Spook 86 has published the draft list he received back in January, emphasizing that the list is only a draft. The draft list has 49 bases slated for closure and three for realignment. One of the distinguishing aims of this round of realignment is to put common functions of different services at the same location, rather than continue to have bases that are exclusive to a single service.

Two of Oklahoma's three Air Force bases were on the draft list for closure: Altus AFB, near the city of the same name, and Vance AFB, near Enid. The closing of either would hurt the surrounding community, but Enid, twice as big as Altus, and the largest city in northwestern Oklahoma, is better positioned to weather the blow.

Altus AFB trains 3000 students a year as pilots, boom operators, and loadmasters for C-5 and C-17 cargo aircraft and KC-135 tankers. With flat terrain and over 300 days of good flying weather a year, it's a great place to train pilots.

I visited Altus many times during my years with Burtek and FlightSafety, working on C-141 and KC-135 simulators, and it was always awe-inspiring, as I approached the town on US 62, to see the massive C-5s float across the sky, like flying whales. They used to park one of them, with the nose open, on the apron facing one of the base's streets, so that as you drove down the street, you looked straight into the maw of the massive aircraft.

The economy of the City of Altus, which has a population just over 20,000, is very dependent on the air base. In addition to military personnel, many civilian contractors work there, like the employees of FlightSafety Services Corporation who maintain and operate the flight simulators for the C-5 and KC-135. Altus has a couple of other major employers, like Bar-S Foods and Luscombe Aircraft Corporation, but they don't employ anywhere near the numbers of people that the base does. Mike Andrews, a columnist for the Altus Times wrote:

The numbers are stark. A town of just over 20,000 has more than 4,000 people employed on base. And that's not including subcontractors or the people who make a living selling cars and houses to people who work on base. Saying that losing the base would be bad for Altus is much like saying the Dust Bowl was bad for Oklahoma.

Altus is not a very exciting place, and as we used to say, "It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there." They have done a lot to spruce up their downtown in recent years, thanks to their award-winning Main Street program. The people there are friendly and welcoming, as I found during some longer stays back in 1987, when I visited several different churches. A surprising number of Air Force folks like it well enough to stick around, even after retirement. One such retiree opened a popular Italian restaurant, Luigi's, in the town of Blair, eight miles to the north. Even if the base closes, Altus would still serve a purpose as the biggest place for over 60 miles in any direction, but I imagine that at least one of the two nicer hotels would close, along with many restaurants and small service businesses.

The BRAC process is a good one. Decisions about the location of bases should be based on military advantage and cost efficiency, not on who sits on the House Armed Services committee. The U.S. military doesn't exist for the purpose of keeping small towns alive. Still, it's sad to see those small towns suffer, and we'll be rooting for and praying for Altus this Friday the 13th.

(Hat tip to Michelle Malkin for the link to Spook 86. She has links to more articles on the subject.)

It's been a summer tradition for Oklahoma Baptist teenagers, going back almost 90 years, to spend a week in the hottest part of Oklahoma, in the hottest part of the summer, sitting on hard wooden benches and sweltering in an immense open-air tabernacle to sing hymns and choruses and hear the Word of God preached. My parents first met there as teenagers. I went three times to Falls Creek Baptist Assembly as a camper, once as a sponsor. While the cabins where campers ate and slept were renovated and air conditioned over the years, the tabernacle remained open on the sides, with only some big fans to try to make a breeze on a still summer evening. (The fans had to be turned off when the choir was singing, as they would have inhaled some of the more petite vocalists.)

The preaching and singing will continue, but the old tabernacle at Falls Creek Conference Center south of Davis is being replaced with an air conditioned auditorium with theater-style seats. The wooden benches, up to 20 years old, covered in graffiti, and ranging in size from four to twelve feet, are being auctioned off. Unfortunately for old campers, the auction house does not provide a searchable index of doodles, so the odds are slim of you finding the bench where you and your sweetheart de la semaine proclaimed your everlasting love with a penknife.

There's an opportunity for graffiti of a sort in the new auditorium, but it's only the one chance and it'll run you $500. For that price, you can "save a seat" and have it inscribed with the text of your choice. You could commemorate your conversion, remember a departed loved one, or honor your church. I suppose a camper could still get an inscription in the time-honored form AB+CD, but $500 is a bit much to pay and a brass plaque is a bit permanent for what may turn out to be wistful memories of the girl you surreptitiously held hands with during the sermon. It might be worth it, though, if that week-long romance turned into 44 years (and counting) of marriage, as it did for a couple I know.

(Found via the dead-tree version of the Baptist Messenger.)

You're encouraged to carve your favorite Falls Creek memories in the comments.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma category from May 2005.

Oklahoma: April 2005 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma: June 2005 is the next archive.

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