10/24/13 — Commanders: A good but challenging year

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Commanders: A good but challenging year

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 24, 2013 1:46 PM

Seth Mabry

Goldsboro mayor Al King, left, shakes the hand of Col. Gregory Gilmour, commander of the 916th Air Refueling Wing, as Col. Jeannie Leavitt, commander of the 4th Fighter Wing, looks on during the annual State of the Military presentation Wednesday at Goldsboro Country Club.

They acknowledged that 2013 has, to date, been tough for members of the military -- the Air Force colonels who addressed the several dozen community leaders who converged on the Goldsboro Country Club late Wednesday morning.

They used words that sent shockwaves through both the 4th Fighter Wing and its Reserve counterpart when they were uttered by officials in Washington earlier this year -- shutdown, furlough and sequestration.

But 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Jeannie Leavitt and 916th Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Gregory Gilmour seemed to agree that, for now, the worst is behind the men and women who serve on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- that, for the most part, life on the Goldsboro installation is back to normal.

And they shared, beyond the repercussions of recent impasses in Washington, some of the positive moments that have unfolded across grounds that provide a morale boost -- and an economic one -- for the communities that house them.

The annual State of the Military provided top brass from Seymour Johnson with a rare opportunity to disclose, to some of the county's business and political leaders, an overview of the many contributions made locally -- and across the globe -- by the men and women under their command.

Leavitt disclosed that there are currently more than 500 4th airmen deployed to locations in 10 different countries -- that the 335th Fighter Squadron, and 12 of the F-15E Strike Eagles they command, arrived at an undisclosed base within the last few weeks.

And Gilmour said since last year's State of the Military, his airmen have been "in and out the door" -- that nearly 40 are currently overseas.

"Where (the 4th Fighter Wing) drops the bombs, nobody gets anywhere without tankers," he said. "So we're always going to be there."

The colonels also highlighted those missions executed inside the Seymour Johnson gates -- from the completion of multimillion-dollar construction projects to both wings receiving an "Excellent" rating on their respective Operational Readiness inspections.

"The wing did fantastic," Leavitt said, several minutes before Gilmour characterized how the 916th's ORI went as "very, very well."

But their remarks were not focused, solely, on what has transpired so far this year.

Gilmour looked toward the future -- discussing the possibility of the 916th housing a fleet of the Air Force's newest tanker, the KC-46.

"I think we're fairly well-postured," he said, adding that the next announcement regarding future homes for the aircraft is slated for 2017.

And Leavitt talked about a potential problem that reared its head this year -- one that, thanks to local and state military advocates, shouldn't ever present itself again.

"When I took this job, I wasn't really expecting to be getting involved in wind farms. It was something I was quite surprised by," she said, referencing the Pantego Project, a proposed wind farm that would have jeopardized 4th aviators' ability to fly at low altitudes into the Dare County Bombing Range -- a project that was altered when a law was passed requiring similar initiatives to coordinate with the military before moving forward. "I just want to rave on the town of Goldsboro, Wayne County and the state of North Carolina. The local community really came through."

Leavitt didn't seem all that surprised.

"The base has got an incredible relationship with this community," she said. "We enjoy incredible support from our local community."

Goldsboro City Manager Scott Stevens reinforced that sentiment when he took his place behind the lectern.

He talked about how the city was expanding its docket of "things to do" so residents, including those who serve on Seymour Johnson, had the best quality of life possible.

And he disclosed how thousands of dollars have been spent to increase the bird harassment tactics that have prevented costly encounters between flocks and the base's fleet -- how millions were being invested to improve downtown and the areas that surround the installation.

Wayne County Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Keen got in on the discussion, too -- expressing his thanks for the sacrifices made by those who serve and unwrapping, among other things, the board's commitment to serving veterans.

But perhaps the most poignant moment of the morning came when Gilmour talked about just why the relationship between the base and those who live outside it is so critical.

"This year has been very tough for us with sequestration and with furloughs," he said, adding that when things like the government shutdown happen, his operation comes "to a grinding halt."

But during those seemingly helpless times, he said Wayne residents did what they have always done.

They stood behind their neighbors -- supporting them in those moments when they needed them the most.

So no matter what the "state of the military" happens to be, one thing, he and Leavitt agreed, seems certain: The state of the relationship between Seymour Johnson and those living outside its gates will always be strong.