ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England – In Afghanistan’s brutal southern and eastern provinces, service members proudly wearing Old Glory and the Union Flag stand shoulder to shoulder while fighting as one – like brothers united for a noble cause. These long-time comrades coordinate combined efforts on the battle fields, skies and seas - which seems flawless and seamless to the average onlooker.
However, outside the theater of war and back here in England, another type of dedicated team remains hard at work sustaining the unwavering friendship and long-term partnership of U.S. service members assigned to Royal Air Force bases and their British hosts. The British-American Community Relations Committee, or BAC, works diligently to cement the two communities.
Recently a new chairman stepped up to lead the RAF Mildenhall BAC. Appointed by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Sheila Bailey assumed the role of chairman here, Oct. 1, and is committed to spreading our positive message throughout the community.
Bailey is an avid horse enthusiast and has an extensive background in aviation-related experiences. For three years she was an executive for the Airborne Forces Museum, Duxford, and is actively involved in flying and maintaining vintage airplanes. Her philosophy is simple:
“Respect the differences in all people,” she said. “There’s an awful lot to learn from one another, and we all have the same goal of national security, combined training and missions, and peacefully living together while enjoying positive experiences.”
As an Irish immigrant herself, Bailey knows firsthand how hard it can be living in a foreign land. Many would say that coming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean is much different than migrating a short hop across the Irish Sea. However, 30 years ago times were very turbulent between Mrs. Bailey’s homeland and Great Britain. It’s the lessons she’s learned along a hard road that drive her quest to cement positive British-American relations.
“When I came here times were troubled but there were still many people who helped me assimilate into life here and believe me, I appreciated every one of them,” Bailey said with a twinkle in her Irish eyes. “I’d like to give back some of the good graces I received and help improve the visiting Americans’ lives.”
To do so, Bailey will need to network with influential people throughout the area and continue to inform them of the positive things base personnel do on base and in the community. To accomplish this, she relies heavily on Sal Davidson, the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s community relations advisor.
Davidson explained that their relationship is bilateral.
“BAC members are my eyes and ears in the local community,” said Davidson. “I am only one person and cannot be at all places all the time. However, with the help of BAC members, we cover much more ground. So they are as valuable to me as I am to them.”
Some would question the need for a BAC as good deeds and friendly British-American relationships can speak for themselves. However, as Bailey explained, BAC’s mission is indispensable.
“We have base access, see firsthand what the Airmen here accomplish and are plugged into the right networks to communicate everything positive the base is doing,” Mrs. Bailey said.
In many ways, that makes the BAC a perfect check-and-balance system to confirm truth or dispel rumors for both Team Mildenhall and the local community.
New in the chairman seat, Bailey is actively taking in her environment. Like a horse racing judge, she already calls ‘objection’ to some of what she has heard and seen.
“In every society there are ‘doom and gloom’ people who will always find something to moan and groan about,” she said of those who lack information about what the U.S. military does and don’t necessarily make informed views based on their lack of information.
Thankfully, Bailey insists there is an answer.
“We are the logical alternative to their negativity,” she said. “The BAC is here to listen to what people are saying and find out what the issues are. Then we address the concerns accordingly. Even the base’s harshest critics are not bad people; they just lack a genuine understanding of how important our partnership really is.”
Members of Team Mildenhall should acquaint themselves with their new BAC chairman, for in many ways she could be their new best friend.
With President Barack Obama ordering 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, the chances of any Team Mildenhall airman deploying alongside their British brethren to the theater is increasing. There is a common aim and focus downrange, and the warriors will continue to release hell’s fire on the anti-Afghan forces dead set on disrupting any possibility of a future there.
Until deployment orders drop and while here in England, Team Mildenhall should continue to support their BAC. After all, the BAC is the heartbeat that sustains bilateral life here.