03/30/14 — Major general speaks at benefit in support of base

View Archive

Major general speaks at benefit in support of base

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 30, 2014 1:50 AM

Full Size


Maj. Gen. Steven Kwastt speaks at a gathering of the Friends of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base on Saturday night at the Walnut Creek Country Club.

The anxiety being felt today about what the future may hold for Wayne County and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is no different from what it was in the 1950s, said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven L. Kwast.

But there is an importance difference this time, a community of dedicated people who are not waiting on others to take the lead in securing the base's future, said Kwast, the former commander of the 4th Fighter Wing at the base.

Kwast was the keynote speaker for Saturday's first fundraising effort of the Friends of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. And at the end of the evening it was announced that $113,765 has been raised.

The gala included dinner, a silent auction and presentations by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, McGuire Woods Consulting of Raleigh and Cassidy and Associates of Washington, D.C.

Kwast used a brief video of the F-15 Fighters as a springboard into his comments, calling it a way to show what a dream looks like, something that did not happen overnight.

"That was not even in the realm of consciousness to people at the time (the 1950s) who got together and said, 'We are going to build something extraordinary. We are going to build something that is the greatest firepower in the history of mankind, where nobody can touch America because we can touch anyone we want,'" he said.

"There was a community of people here in the '50s that had that dream and despite the fact that it may feel like we are in trouble, the reality of it is that politics never changes."

The crisis of the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s and the anxiety of the community in Goldsboro were no different than what is being experienced right now, he said.

"What was different, and what is happening tonight is that that there was a group of people here, in this community, in Wayne County, that said, 'We are not going to stand by idly. We are not going to be passive. We are going to actively make our future,'" Kwast said.

"There was a group of young, vibrant, energetic leaders that took that bull by the horns and they didn't let it go until you see what you saw right there (in the video) sitting in the home of North Carolina -- the greatest fighter wing in the history of mankind."

Kwast said he had been fortunate over the past year to sit in Washington, D.C., and work with the White House, the Congress and the Department of Defense, looking at every dollar spent under the DOD.

That time also included looking at strategy for the next 20 years and a "deep look" at the world and how it has changed, he said. The world has changed fundamentally and foundationally, he said. It means it is the age of the rise of air power as tool of nation power, Kwast said.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a comment in the morning, stocks fall only to rise when he makes another statement in the afternoon, Kwast said.

"That is a world that is different than the one they experienced in 1950," he said. "That is a world that requires different tools of national power to make sure America stays strong and free and makes sure where the home of the brave is where we shape our future. Our enemies do not shape us.

"But we need something. We need a community who gets that. We need a community that does not just sit back and drink the fat of the lamb from generations of people that have given us this gift, this dream. We need a generation now that is willing to stand up, willing to say, 'Not on my watch. I am going to held build an America that is dependable and that is relevant and that is capable of dealing with the world the way we see it now."

But that takes "guts and effort," Kwast said. It also takes selflessness, where people do things that may not be comfortable, but are essential.

"Tonight is the beginning of something great," he said. "You have people in your community who have this vision, who are not chasing the short-term trends .... Those will come and go. Politics will not change. Their vision is something beyond the horizon.

"It is a vision like we saw in the 1950s that gave us the birth of the vision you saw described right here in the video -- a world where air power brings to our president and our Congress options that would never let Russia and the Crimean debacle happen. That will never let China bully us around in the South China Sea. That will truly allow us to protect our children and grandchildren."

That starts in "hometown America," by people who care, not in Washington, D.C., or the halls of Congress, Kwast said.

It starts with people who are not willing to sit back and expect somebody else to do, he said.

"They start by paying attention," Kwast said. "They start by building the tools so that their community has a vote, because if there is one thing that I regret over the last 60 years since the Air Force came about its that hometown America is left out of the conversation -- that they are not connected with the visceral horrors of war and the dangerous nature of the world.

"America's best days are yet to come, but it will only happen if communities like this gather together and do something more than just sit back and complain about the tyranny of the conversation on the TV."

Kwast said he wanted to leave the group with a covenant that the night was not just an event, but rather a recognition by the community that it can start something "great" and that fate can be changed by "heroes."

"And you have those heroes here," he said. "They are young. They are vibrant. They are courageous and they don't take no for an answer and they were raised right. This next generation was raised right. They have a vision and they are going to need your help because change is dangerous. Strategy is dangerous because it will make winners and losers out of the future."

Hiring others to help get the message across is fine, but Congress needs to see the faces in the community, he said.

"They need to talk to the people who are the founding fathers of Wayne County and Goldsboro," Kwast said. "They need to see you. That is what matters. Investing in that relationship where your vote counts is the way to make sure the longevity of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in this community stays viable

"It is connected to the fact that the world has changed and we had better start changing, too, or we will be the victim of some player in the world who will take advantage of our weakness. So it is up to us."

Kwast urged the audience to make a promise that the night was more than just a banquet and to bring even more people back with them next year.

He also urged them to do even more than they had done this year to support the base.