06/15/10 — AF chiefs: Pate kept SJAFB in Wayne

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AF chiefs: Pate kept SJAFB in Wayne

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 15, 2010 1:46 PM

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Front row, from left: former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mike Moseley and his wife, Jennie, and Barbara Wynne and former Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne; back row: Alice Corley and former Air Combat Commander Gen. John Corley, Bill and Debbie Anderson, and Joyce and Troy Pate. The Air Force's former top chiefs were in Goldsboro last week to visit the Pates. Pate recently resigned from his post as chairman of the governor's North Carolina Advisory Commission on Military Affairs.

They came to Goldsboro for an evening of fellowship, the nation's 21st Secretary of the Air Force and 18th Air Force Chief of Staff -- to share a few laughs and drinks with a man they know both as a trusted friend and a staunch advocate for a military installation they call one of the most important in the world.

But during their brief stint in Wayne County, Michael Wynne and retired Gen. Michael Moseley also took some time to explain just why the survival of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is so critical -- and the kind of person it would take to ensure its safety should the Base Realignment and Closure Commission be convened again.

"People used to ask me, 'How do I protect my base from BRAC?' And I would say, 'You can't start six months before the event. You start five, six, seven years before that event, and you build a camaraderie around it and build up the notion that, Why would a service close the base? Why not reward that civic pride and civic behavior?'" Wynne said. "So I think the importance of (civil leaders), without a doubt, is about creating an aura."

In short, Seymour Johnson needs another like the man they came to town to see last week, Wynne said -- another Troy Pate Jr. -- someone who possesses a certain insight into the global military picture and a real passion for helping even the lowest ranking airman.

"I worry a little bit about a base like Seymour when someone like Troy decides that he's not going to be an active participant anymore," Wynne said. "So somebody needs to step up and recognize that this is not a paid job, but it has long-term rewards for this community."

"It's not about just being friends with the wing commander and getting to meet colonels and generals. It's about the youngest airman. It's about chow halls. It's about hospitals and clinics. It's about jobs for spouses," Moseley added. "It's not just about getting a good seat at a change of command and Troy always got that. And let me tell you, it takes guys like us about two seconds to figure out the people who are sincere about taking care of the youngest airman or the wife who just lost her husband."

It has been several months since Pate, 10-time Military Affairs Committee chairman and founder of the Seymour Support Council, announced that he would begin to phase out of roles that included one as head of the governor's Advisory Commission on Military Affairs.

But Wynne and Moseley believe the impact he has made over the last four decades will continue to serve Seymour Johnson well in the future -- a future both said could be quite bright.

"Seymour should be OK (during the next round of BRAC) and one of the key reasons is because the East Coast bases that the Air Force has ... these are critical bases. They were during the Cold War because they are six hours closer to Europe. They are now because they are six hours closer to Europe and they are six hours closer to the Middle East. The West Coast bases are the same way for the Pacific," the general said. "And Seymour Johnson is ideally situated in a community that is most supportive, in a part of the Atlantic where you can go over the northeast part to get into northern Europe, the Balkans or eastern Europe, or you can go across the Atlantic and get to the Mediterranean. Its geographic location is very, very critical and we shouldn't lose sight of that."

And the long-standing reputation of Goldsboro-based airmen is a plus, too.

"The 4th Fighter Wing ... is one of our historic crown jewels as far as heritage and culture," Moseley said. "The two wings that saved Korea were the 4th Wing and the 51st Wing. ... Without those F-86s, the 8th U.S. Army would not have stayed on the Peninsula. So without the 4th and 51st ... what would the Cold War have looked like and what would today look like ... if all of Korea and northeast Asia was different from 1952 to now?"

Wynne, for many of the same reasons, believes Seymour Johnson will likely survive the next round of base closures.

But he went a step further, predicting that the scope of the local installation's role in global military operations would, in fact, grow.

"I understand that Seymour Johnson is somewhere on the list to receive an unmanned vehicle squadron. My guess is it's a compliment more to the maintenance squadron than anything. ... One of the things that has really gotten Seymour Johnson on the books is the quality maintenance that goes on around here. So I think there will probably come a time when you'll see an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron here," he said. "And it wouldn't surprise me if Seymour is on the list to get Joint-Strike Fighters as soon as they go through all the tracks and traces.

"But make no mistake, it's going to be up to somebody on the order of a Troy Pate or his successor to really make sure that the congressional staffs of the districts that surround the base are just keeping an eye on it."

Moseley agreed.

"Those things don't just happen because they are available. They happen because leadership has developed those relationships over years with someone like a Troy Pate," he said. "Troy doesn't get paid for any of that (lobbying), and it's not something he does to get any recognition. He does it because it's the right thing to do. And if this community wants to see continued success at Seymour Johnson, the next guy has got to pitch at his level. That's what's best for the community ... and the base."