Col. Corey Simmons, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, spoke to the Enid Rotary Club Monday to introduce himself, and to update club members on projects at the base and progress toward increasing pilot production.
Simmons assumed command at Vance on July 16, relieving retiring commander Col. Darrell Judy.
Having received his wings and served several tours at Columbus Air Force Base, one of the Air Force’s other two undergraduate pilot training bases, Simmons joked that coming to be the wing commander at Vance was “kind of like being a Hatfield and marrying a McCoy.”
Prior to his arrival at Vance on July 11, Simmons said he’d never before been to Enid. But, he said, it was quickly apparent how good a working relationship exists between the base and community.
“Enid is a very special place,” Simmons said. “Enid has it working from the very beginning. I listen to my airmen tell me what they need, and they don’t need a lot because they’re well taken care of by the Enid community.”
That support is reflected in the pride all members of Team Vance, both military and civilian, show in their work, Simmons said.
“There’s not a person wearing a uniform on that base, or who works as a contractor or is a civilian employee on that base, who isn’t proud to work there,” Simmons said.
About 2,500 people go to work at Vance each day, according to figures provided by Simmons, including about 350 civilian government employees, 900 contractors and 1,100 officers and enlisted personnel — all to support the approximately 500 student pilots in the training pipeline at any given time.
With dependents, reservists and local retirees figured in, Simmons said Vance directly supports about 8,500 people.
Vance, and the jobs it provides, have an economic impact in Enid of $279.7 million per year, Simmons said, including $96.4 million in payroll, $126.7 million in contract expenditures and $56.6 million in job creation value for 1,263 local jobs.
Simmons said everything that happens at the base supports three main goals: to develop innovative airmen; to deliver pilots to meet Air Force requirements; and to “deploy warriors” to meet operational demands.
In pursuit of those goals, Simmons said he tells his airmen to follow three directives: “Nobody knows how to do your job better than you — act like it; Be credible — own your craft and be the best at it; Be accountable — own your mistakes and hold yourselves and your teammates accountable for that.”
The requirements of meeting Vance’s goals will be going up, for Simmons and his team, as the base increases its graduation tempo from one class every three weeks to one class every other week, with 25 classes expected over the next year.
In order to meet a shortage of pilots in the Air Force, Vance has been tasked with increasing its pilot output by about 30 percent by 2021 over the fiscal year (FY) 2017 output. Output this year, projected at 362 pilots, already is up more than 31 percent over the 2015 numbers.
Simmons said the challenge is to increase the pilot output, with minimal increase in instructor pilots and support resources, without sacrificing the quality of the graduates.
“We’re not losing the standards,” Simmons said. “You’re going to have to learn how to fly an airplane, just like always.”
He said students and instructors alike are going to have to use innovation and technology to complete the training curriculum “faster and better.”
Aircrew and ground support staff also will have to work around several construction projects over the next two years.
Funds already have been allocated for a 60-day project to make warranty repairs on the outside runway, to be completed next spring; and a 90-day project to work on the aprons for the inside runway, to be completed next summer.
A much larger project, to replace the center runway, is expected to begin in FY20 and is yet to be funded. That project will last about a year, Simmons said, and will require Vance to rely much more heavily on Enid Woodring Regional Airport for runway space.
Increasing operational tempo at Vance also will require several yet-unfunded infrastructure projects: a new or upgraded operations center sufficient to meet increased operational demands, a bypass taxiway to enable aircraft to taxi to the outside runway with reduced waiting time and an addition to the base fire station to house additional fire apparatus required for the increased number of sorties.
Simmons said Vance will be able to complete those projects, and meet the increased operational demands, in large part due to the support of the Enid community.
He invited the public to attend the Air Force Community Ball, celebrating the 71st anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, and to show the community’s support for Vance to guest speaker Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff of the Air Force.
The ball is scheduled for Sept. 8 at Central National Bank Center, with a social hour beginning at 6 p.m. and the ball at 7 p.m.
The evening will feature valet service, cash bar, a sit-down dinner with a chicken and beef or vegetarian option, music by the 18-piece “St. Louis Big Band” playing 1940s-era big band music, dancing and themed decorations highlighting the history of Vance and Enid.
Dress for the evening is black tie or 1940s-era heritage attire for civilians, mess dress or 1940s vintage uniforms for military.
Ticket cost for the ball is $85 for individual tickets, at the CNB Center box office or online at AirForceBall.com.
A table of 10 seats can be purchased for $750 at the CNB Center box office.
Story provided by Enid News and Eagle
Written by James Neal