01/16/08 — Commander's call: Build for the future

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Commander's call: Build for the future

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 16, 2008 1:45 PM

Steve Kwast would tell you that service means little if "home" is not something worth fighting for.

In fact, part of what keeps the Air Force colonel going is knowing there are "tightly knit" communities like Goldsboro and Wayne County for his airmen to come back to after tours in the desert, he said.

So when the 4th Fighter Wing commander addressed local leaders and residents inside the Wayne County Courthouse's Courtroom No. 1 Tuesday afternoon, he thanked those in attendance for spearheading the practices and projects he said might still define this small tract of Eastern North Carolina hundreds of years from now.

And he left them with a charge -- to continue to build these communities up for the sake of future generations and those who will fight to keep them free.

"Why are you here?" Kwast asked. "Well, to put it simply, you are here because you care about your community. You are here because you care about your downtown. It means something."

Event organizers said it was fitting that Kwast left the flight suit at home and addressed the crowd "not as a wing commander, but as a citizen."

After all, the DGDC- and Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event was meant to rally locals behind the projects and policy changes that have seen "great changes" over the past few years -- construction of a new Paramount Theater and City Hall, to name a few.

It was about the "community worth fighting for," not the fight.

Maybe that is why Kwast did not speak about his 250-plus combat hours, his decorations or the night he led a fleet of F-15Es into Iraq.

Instead, he focused on other leaders -- Mayor Al King and the day he approved restoration of the original City Hall, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and all they have done to keep the county safe and clean.

"There's nothing new here. I am not going to tell you much you didn't already know," he said. "But what is new is that this team of leaders has got some hard work ahead of them. I want to go over with you the reasons that we care."

Different pictures began flashing up on the screen behind the commander -- the Pyramids, Great Wall of China and monuments in Washington, DC.

Great things, he said, only stand the test of time when "courageous" leaders plan them out "thoughtfully," without fear of passing on a "quick fix" or "easy profit."

Several of the 200-plus in attendance shook their heads in agreement.

After all, King and other members of the City Council on hand know that progress takes time.

That became clear at the end of the colonel's address, as more recent pictures from downtown popped up one by one behind him.

There was a shot of the Paramount fire and then a picture of crews putting the finishing touches on Goldsboro's storied theater earlier this month.

And then one of gold-plated Liberty and Justice being lifted onto the roof of a nearly-completed City Hall.

"Why not just bring a bulldozer through Center Street? Why do we care?" Kwast asked. "We care because buildings and communities have meaning. Communities are where our children play and where they will live out their days, where our hopes are defined. Communities are where our hearts and souls regain their strength so that we may get up tomorrow and face another difficult day."

And with that -- and a standing ovation -- the 40-plus minutes had passed.

But before Kwast finished, the commander charged the members of the audience with one more mission.

"Be a bigger part of this effort," he said. "And remember, we do it as a team. We do it as a team."

So he asked that each person walk away committed to rallying more people behind what he called "noble" and "outstanding" work.

"(At this event next year), this room won't be big enough. We're going to have to go down to the Paramount Theater," Kwast said. "Because we are a community that cares. We are a community that really gets it."