Flanked by a F-4E Phantom fighter jet, John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force, praised local leaders for their continued support of the military at the grand opening of the Bryan Multi-Sports Complex Monday.
The celebration, which drew elected officials, airmen and members of the community, paid tribute to all who worked to make the 62-acre complex on Oak Forest Road a reality, he said.
"This is a win-win partnership that we're certainly using as a model for other military communities across the nation, and our success here is thanks to forward-leaning, proactive leadership by people who dedicated themselves to a cause to persevere to achieve a very worthy outcome for this community," said Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy.
"Thank you for your patriotism and support to our military, and thank you for your service to our nation."
The development of the complex was made possible through a 20-year lease agreement between the city of Goldsboro and the U.S. Air Force, which allowed the city to develop the $6 million site on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base property. The agreement also allows shared use by city residents and base personnel.
The partnership also achieves the priorities of Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Henderson said.
The priorities are to restore readiness, cost-effectively modernize, drive innovation, develop exceptional leaders and strengthen alliances.
"This project recognizes every one of those priorities, in every way," Henderson said. "So on behalf of Secretary Wilson, please accept our sincere gratitude for a job well done."
The grand opening celebration included an opening performance of A Drummer's World and started with the pledge of allegiance, led by Thomas Sumner, who created a flag memorial and landscaping to honor men and women serving at Seymour Johnson.
The flag memorial, located near the F-4E Phantom, includes United States, North Carolina and Air Force flags, along with four green bushes, representing the four squadrons at SJAFB and two yellow plants representing the color of support to airmen.
Kaela Coles, an Eastern Wayne High School student, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by a flyover of two F-15E Strike Eagles.
Just before speaking, Henderson presented Coles with a coin of excellence for her performance.
Mayor Chuck Allen recognized former mayor Al King, who played a role in working on the multi-sports complex partnership in its earlier years, and thanked different groups and individuals for their role in making the dream a reality.
"It's a great time to be a citizen in this community because there is good stuff going on all over this community and it's going on because of the relationships and the partnerships between the base, between the county, between the city and all these entities that are working together," Allen said.
The sports complex opened in March with eight multi-sports fields, including two with artificial turf, and a field house with a concessions stand and restrooms. Future additions include a splash pad, covered picnic shelters and a playground.
The centerpiece of the complex is a retired F-4E Phantom, the last operational F-4E to serve at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, said Col. Christopher Sage, 4th Fighter Wing commander.
The Phantom was assigned to the 334th Tactical Fighter Squadron Eagles for its entire distinguished history, from September 1977 until December 1990, Sage said.
"The F-4E Phantom aircraft that stands behind us is a representation of our appreciation to the city of Goldsboro and to all of Wayne County," Sage said. "It's a shining example of the profoundly special bond that we have with each other."
Sage recognized the city's continued partnership with the Air Force, which started before the installation became what it is today. In 1952, the city sold the base property to the Air Force for $1, Sage said.
"Today, we're opening a sports complex for use by both the base and the local community and it's proof of what is possible when we work together for a common purpose and a common goal," Sage said.
The Phantom also includes the name of its pilot, now retired Brig. Gen. Lawrence Huggins.
Huggins was the 334th Tactical Fighter Squadron commander from 1977 to 1979. From 1982 to 1984, he served as commander of the 4th Fighter Wing. During both tours, he piloted the aircraft, Sage said.
Huggins, who retired in 1989, traveled from Hickory to attend the grand opening where the Phantom was dedicated in his honor.
"You've been a great contributor to our team throughout the years and represent the veterans of our United States Air Force quite well, and it's quite an honor to have your name stenciled on that aircraft from here into eternity," Sage said.
The Bryan Multi-Sports Complex will serve as the host site of the N.C. Youth Soccer Association Kepner President's State Cup Saturday and Sunday, already promised to be a local tourism boost, drawing 64 teams, nearly 2,500 visitors and generating an estimated $1 million in local revenue, Allen said.