Enid was top-of-mind for congressional and military leaders this week as the Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce took its annual trip to Washington, D.C.  The group visited the Pentagon to meet with top Air Force officials, and held meetings on Capitol Hill with members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation.

City of Enid military liaison Mike Cooper led the group in meetings with Lt. Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, as well as Miranda Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment, and energy. Both were briefed on the cooperative projects between the city and the Air Force, like the runway extension at Enid Woodring Regional Airport that allows T-38s from Vance Air Force Base to land there, as well as the joint use hangar that shelters both civilian and military aircraft.

The chamber group also told Holmes and Ballentine about the upcoming project to build a ramp at Woodring near the joint use hangar that could be used to park T-38s or other military aircraft.  “This will help them with their ability to continue training pilots on the weekend,” said Cooper. “This project will increase mission capability and reduce costs. With the increase in pilot numbers, this will help them with their ability to produce pilots in a more efficient manner.”

Some recent Vance pilot training classes got behind in their training and were able to catch up thanks to being able to use Woodring for some of their operations, Cooper said.  Holmes told the group the Air Force will need to increase the number of pilots being trained for the foreseeable future, which could prompt the Air Force to open another squadron somewhere if current training bases go beyond their capacity.  “They want to see how the bases can handle this increased load,” Cooper said.  The group also met with Oklahoma congressmen Frank Lucas, Markwayne Mullin and Steve Russell, as well as senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford.  The congressmen were briefed on the city’s planned Kaw Lake water project, the master trail system, investments in city parks and the success of the Enid Event Center and Convention Hall, said Jon Blankenship, chamber president and CEO.

Brent Kisling, executive director of the Enid Regional Development Alliance, presented an overview of the business development going on in Enid, such as the Koch Fertilizer plant expansion, as well as wind energy, housing and retail projects. The chamber group expressed concerns about federal overreach on items including actions of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as consequences of the Affordable Care Act. They also urged the Veterans Administration to consider accrediting career tech programs.  “We think trips such as this will pay dividends in the long-term,” said Blankenship.  The group also highlighted so-called “P4” initiatives, which stands for public to public, public to private. A newly formed local group is part of the Air Force Community Partnership Program, and is exploring ways in which the city and base can continue to partner.

Story by: Enid News & Eagle

Written by: Jeff Mullin