Bird's Eye View: Goodbye and thanks

  • Published
  • By Col. H. Brent Baker Sr.
  • 95th Air Base Wing commander
It's hard to believe that almost two years have come and gone. It only seems like yesterday when the family and I rolled into Edwards, hitting the North Gate at about noon on Aug. 2, 2005. We must have looked like the "Beverly Hillbillies" as we were driving two cars, a U-Haul with a trailer and a family cat in tow. We also wondered "what have we gotten ourselves into since we were, no kidding, in the middle of the desert?" We were met by Master Sgt. Paul Gerhardt from the 95th Security Forces Squadron, who would be our "daily sponsor" to show us the base and help us get settled. Later, we would lose Paul to a sudden heart attack, but my family will never forget his warm reception and caring spirit. 

You have heard the worn out cliché that "time flies when you are having fun." Well, I must have been having a blast because I cannot remember when two years have passed so quickly. 

It was my distinct pleasure and honor to serve as the commander of the 95th Air Base Wing. It has indeed been a pleasure to be part of such a great team. What an awesome thought -- I was part of Team Edwards and a small part of the long lineage of history here. 

Over the past few days since my assignment was announced, I've had many folks come up to me or send me an e-mail stating that they will miss me and wish me the best. I have cherished and greatly appreciated every comment I've received, and each comment has touched me in a different and personal way. And while I am humbled by these comments, I also realize my leadership was only a small reflection of what we have accomplished as a team. 

My job was to provide a vision, set the climate for success, and give you the tools, training and chance to excel. Well, you have done that and so much more. 

We focused on three main goals: 

Prepare Air Expeditionary Force-ready Airmen from A-Z 

We keenly deployed more than 800 warriors to the far corners of the globe in support of the Global War on Terrorism as the second most heavily tasked base in Air Force Materiel Command while at the same time maintaining the lowest discrepancy rate in the command for two years. We secured more than $250,000 and completely refurbished our deployment control center. We've implemented sound pre- and post-deployment programs to include an Air Expeditionary Force Fair, Operation Kids Understanding Deployment Operations and a Combat Decompression Program that is making a difference in the lives of returning deployers. Two years ago, we didn't have a combat skills training program, which is required by the Air Force. However, today our combat skills program is second to none. We also jump-started a non-existent Operational Readiness Exercise program. I remember where we started from two years ago -- when we didn't even have a single checklist, Camp Corum was in disarray, there were no command and control procedures, and when we were advised by the local Inspector General that we couldn't even do that first ORE in August 2005. Well, it's obvious to me that we have come a long way in preparing our troops for deployment. I'm also very proud of the fact that we passed the Targeted Compliance Inspection with an excellent rating, passed every Special Interest Item and blew the inspectors away during the deployed operations portion of the Operational Readiness Inspection, receiving an excellent rating. We had some issues with the IG Phase I scenario, but I know in my heart of hearts that we can successfully deploy our troops today if called upon. I consider us the most prepared, war-ready base that I've ever been a part of. 

Make Team Edwards a great place to live and work 

Wow! What we've accomplished in two years is phenomenal. We brought on a brand new base operations facility, which is beautiful. We've completed about a third of our $100 million housing project and recently turned over some outstanding junior enlisted homes. We awarded a $100 million runway project on time and under cost. We hosted two nearly flawless Open Houses. We captured $9 million in end-of-year project dollars. We improved the fitness center, fixed our Basic Allowance for Housing disparity and received the largest BAH increases in Edwards' history. We improved Club Muroc's kitchen, brought on Panda Express, started the Defense Department's first base-specific podcast and started the Four Dimensions of Wellness program, which is a model for the command. We witnessed the 95th Medical Group secure a three-year accreditation and receive an excellent rating on the Health Services Inspection. We broke a five-year log jam and secured fuels funding for the Joint Strike Fighter chilled-fuel system. We supported the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, successfully supported the landing of the space shuttle, and became the most energy efficient base in DoD, just to name a few. Wow, indeed. 

Embrace change and be the masters of our own destiny 

Again, I consider this third goal a huge success. We organized to survive the very serious Presidential Budget Decision 720 manpower cuts. Most people don't realize it, but the 95th ABW took 145 cuts as a result of PBD 720 and other manpower drills. We were key participants in AFMC's effort to standardize and reorganize providing numerous inputs to senior leaders in AFMC. We guided our own destiny although we experienced a 20-percent budget cut in one year, actually spending our dollars down to the nickel, without a single impact to customer support or fiscal violations. We also were able to manage our civilian pay budget effectively although our civilian pay funding was cut by five percent and eight percent over the last two years. We had to make some tough decisions such as closing the dining facility and deactivating the marquees, but without those tough decisions, we would all but be broke today. While we have a couple of funding challenges, we are postured financially better than any wing in the command. So again, I consider our third goal a resounding success. 

Being in command is the greatest job in the Air Force. However, it's not always easy, and along the way we've had some tragedies. Who will ever forget the loss of Airman Erin Frasier, Master Sgt. Paul Gerhardt, Senior Airman Noah Bates, Chantal Pee, and our beloved Installation Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Herrie Reed? At the same time we've had some really great and fun times -- the NBA Entertainment League game, the colonels destroying the chiefs in basketball, the pies in the face, the picnics, the holiday parties and the friendships from day to day. 

Finally, I have to say a few thank you's. I want to thank Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke for his leadership and confidence in me. What a great leader! Team Edwards is blessed to have the Bedke leadership team at the controls. Also, Col. Arnie Bunch, you are a great wing commander and an even better friend. Thanks for making me look good. 

I have to say thanks to my family -- first, Julie, my 15-year-old daughter for only making the blotter once. Juls, you are a great daughter and a great athlete. Aleea, thanks for being such a blessing and comfort. Aleea, you have the best heart of anyone I know, you are funny, and I really enjoyed having your wedding here at Edwards. Thanks to Tiffany and "H.B.," who supported me from afar. Finally, thanks to Robyle, my best friend. Robyle you are simply the best friend and spouse in the world. I am nothing without you and every success I have or ever hope to have is a result of your love for me. 

I also want to personally thank Col. Bryan Gallagher, Chief Master Sgt. Juan Lewis and all the folks who made the retreat and my farewell luncheon so memorable. They were awesome! 

Finally, to the men and women of the 95th ABW -- you rock! Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the "Mighty 95th ABW" for the last two years. Thanks for the friendship, the support, the leadership, and your day-to-day efforts. As I've said many times, "never have so few done so much for so many!" Godspeed to the 95th ABW and never forget our motto: "Warriors Supporting Warriors." 

Farewell, Team Edwards and our many friends.