Members of Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce saw a familiar face when they visited the Pentagon on Wednesday morning during their annual trip to Washington, D.C. — former 71st Flying Training Wing commander Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland.

Nowland, who now is Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, briefed the group on issues facing the Air Force, particularly the shortage of fighter pilots, as well as the world situation. Nowland served at 71st FTW commander at Vance Air Force Base from July 2008 to May 2010.

“The Russian and Chinese, they have watched us and they have figured out how we do things,” said Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison. “We still have air supremacy, but we don’t have it like we used to.”

Nowland told the group about new airplanes coming on line in the next few years, like the new KC-46 tanker, the B-21 long-range strike bomber and the T-X trainer, which someday will replace the venerable T-38.

“The T-X needs to happen sooner than later,” said Cooper. “We told Gen. Nowland that we (Vance) want to be the first to get the new T-X, and he said we need to look at increasing ramp space and other things.”

Nowland called the improvements made in recent years to Enid Woodring Regional Airport — lengthening the main runway, building a joint-use military and civilian hangar and adding additional ramp space on which to park aircraft — “absolutely a brilliant decision,” said Cooper.

“He said it couldn’t have been better and couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Cooper said.

The Woodring improvements, he said, were part of helping the Air Force increase mission capability while at the same time reducing costs.

With the Air Force experiencing a shortage of some 1,000 pilots, Cooper said, “We (Vance) are going to be getting a lot of extra workload.”

The group briefed Nowland on measures before the state Legislature designed to help protect military airspace. Altus Chamber of Commerce is pushing lawmakers to give Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, of which Cooper is chairman, siting approval for wind farms near military bases. The turbines affect both radar and low-level training routes.

“Our No. 1 military value is our airspace,” said Cooper. “We can decide to protect it or not. It’s not that we’re against wind farms, it is about proper siting.”

Later Wednesday the Enid group met with members of Oklahoma’s legislative delegation, then hosted an evening reception for legislators as well as Department of Defense officials.

Story provided by:  Enid News & Eagle

Written by:  Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer