A group that provides community support to McConnell Air Force Base has been honored nationally.
Friends of McConnell, an affiliate organization of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, earned the 2017 Abilene Trophy, also known as the Air Mobility Command Community Support Award.
The award has been given annually since 1998 to the community that provides the strongest support to its Air Force Base. There are more than 64 Air Force Bases in the continental U.S.
“The support the base gets from the community is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Phil Heseltine, vice commander of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell. “I’ve been in the Air Force for 24 years, and I thought I had seen great support of our airmen. The city of Wichita and surrounding communities appreciate those who wear the cloth of our nation, and we definitely feel welcome when we come home. The community here wraps their arms around our family when we cannot.”
The group’s 200-page application for the award cited these efforts, among others:
▪ The Wichita region working with the base in preparation for the arrival of the new tanker the KC-46 Pegasus.
▪ A Home Away From Home program in which Wichita civic leaders open their homes to connect with airmen and their families.
▪ Covering the costs of airmen and their guests for the Air Force Ball.
▪ Hosting Wichtalks, or TED-like talks, organized by the airmen.
▪ Defraying costs for leadership-development events.
Friends of McConnell strives to make McConnell Air Force Base the most desirable and memorable assignment of an airman’s career, said Pat Gallagher, military affairs liaison for the chamber.
She said the Wichita community should feel honored to be the home of McConnell Air Force Base.
“The airmen, their families and their leadership team bring great talent to our community,” Gallagher said. “They are a stellar addition.”
McConnell Air Force Base has an $800 million annual economic impact on the Wichita region, according to the chamber. The base is preparing for the arrival of some of the first new KC-46 tankers in 2018 and expects to eventually have 36 to replace its aging KC-135s.
The Abilene Trophy will be presented to the Friends of McConnell by the chairman of the Abilene Chamber on June 14 during the chamber’s Sunrise Scrambler. The McConnell commanders will be present.