News: Civic leaders meet for first-ever forum, share top military-support strategies
By Staff Sgt. Amanda Currier
9th Air Force Public Affairs
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. - Twenty three civic leaders from 9th Air Force wings across the Southeastern United States gathered here Aug. 14 to 15, 2012, for the first-ever 9th Air Force Civic Leader Forum.
The forum offered civic attendees a better understanding of 9th Air Force’s missions, challenges and community-related needs. It also provided them an opportunity to garner best practices in supporting military communities from each other.
“As a first for 9th Air Force, this effort brought together motivated civic leaders from four states to share their experiences of helping our airmen,” said Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells, 9th Air Force commander.
Forum attendees represented civil-military partnerships in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. They came from all seven of 9th Air Force’s active-duty wings, including the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.; the 20th Fighter Wing, Shaw AFB, S.C.; the 23rd Wing and 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing, Moody AFB, Ga.; the 461st Air Control Wing, Robins AFB, Ga.; and the 633rd Air Base Wing and 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
The forum began Aug. 14 with an evening social, which provided civic delegates and 9th Air Force leaders a chance to become better acquainted. On Aug. 15, the same parties met on Shaw for a day of briefings and open discussion. Wells kicked-off the briefings with a presentation on 9th Air Force’s mission.
“We organize, train and equip airmen. We are the only numbered Air Force solely focused on that mission,” Wells said. “We prepare the forces to go downrange and fight in combat.”
When 9th Air Force airmen are sent to support deployment operations, their communities rally to help care for their families. Forum attendees described how their communities hold dinners and other events for families of deployed Airmen. For instance, at Robins, the Houston County Board of Education and Robins partner to provide support groups within local schools for children with deployed family members.
Following the 9th Air Force mission briefing, members from each respective civic leader group described the structure of their military-support organizations. They also shared how they tackle military-family-unique challenges with education, housing, employment, healthcare, deployments and other common issues.
“It provided them an opportunity to show what their civic community is doing to support its local Airmen, bases and military missions,” Wells said. “Our goal is simple: to take care of our Airmen and their families; this forum is a huge step forward in meeting our goal!”
Forum discussion topics were selected with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Joining Forces” initiative in mind, which seeks to “mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned,” according to the White House Web site, http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces.
For example, civic leaders representing Seymour Johnson discussed how their state recently persuaded Congress to pass a bill, North Carolina House Bill 799, enabling military spouses and veterans professionally licensed in other states to become certified in North Carolina without having to re-license.
Civic leaders from other locations described similar initiatives as well as programs designed to help veterans find jobs after the military.
“What you learn with separations and retirements is; a lot of (veterans) don’t know exactly what to do after spending their entire lives in the military,” said Steve Quinn, military affairs committee member, Moody, “We have all sorts of programs for when they’re out. For those that want to stay in the community, there are several things to get them rolling.”
Education was also a hot topic. For example, service members attending college are entitled to in-state tuition regardless of where they live; however, their family members aren’t always afforded this benefit. Each group of civic leaders addressed this issue and shared what they have done to tackle this and other education concerns in their respective states.
“Here, if you are a military member’s dependent, you get in-state tuition,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. William Holland, Executive Director, Shaw-Sumter Partnership for Progress and Shaw civic leader.
Represented wings chose civic leaders to attend the forum based on their involvement in the community, and at each community’s recommendation. As leaders in their respective communities, these civic delegates brought experience in business, commerce, education and government affairs to the conference.
“This was great. We need to do this more often,” said Bruce Sturk, a military affairs committee member representing Joint Base Langley-Eustis. “Having everybody come together to share ideas was so beneficial. It was interesting to learn how others work with and help military families in their communities.”