Monday, July 3, 2017
The 72nd Air Base Wing, the host organization for Tinker Air Force Base, recently welcomed a new commander. Col. Kenyon Bell assumed command of the unit from Col. Stephanie Wilson during a ceremony at the Tinker Club on May 1, presided over by Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II, Commander, Air Force Sustainment Center.
Bell, a USAF Academy graduate, had previously served as commander of the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group, also located at Tinker. He has served as the first commander of the 451st Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron in Afghanistan, as Strategy Branch Chief and Readiness Branch Chief at the Pentagon and other USAF operational assignments.
While not a native Oklahoman, Bell understands the unique relationship between the base and the local community.
“This is a special place,” he said. “The people that work on Tinker represent 44 of the 77 counties in Oklahoma. We don’t just stay nestled on the base, we go out in the community and we closely work with the people there. In my previous command, the group I had was about 4,000 strong, but only 40 of us were military. Generations of Oklahomans have worked at Tinker and they love this base. The bond we have through them with the surrounding communities goes far beyond the base’s economic impact of nearly $4 billion. We have a payroll of $1.6 billion and that is a large impact on the local communities. The relationship we have with the downtown community is unparalleled within, not just USAF, but probably the entire Department of Defense. There is no doubt in my mind that we appreciate and value what is outside the gate.”
Bell also appreciates the historical significance of the base.
“We are celebrating the diamond anniversary of Tinker Air Force Base in 2017 with many special events,” he related. “We had the 75th anniversary kick-off luncheon back in January, the Tinker Dining Out at the Skirvin Hotel in early April hosted by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, we celebrated Midwest City’s 75th anniversary at a gala on April 28, we had the Star Spangled Salute Air Show in May which broke records for the number of spectators (247,000) over two great days featuring the Thunderbirds showcasing airpower capabilities along with almost 50 other aerial acts, the 75th anniversary golf tournament with 232 mission partners - civic leaders who came out to help us celebrate at the Tinker Golf Course, and, in September, we’ll celebrate the 70th birthday of the United States Air Force at the Air Force Ball. Additionally, the 552 Air Control Wing is celebrating 40 years of the E-3 Sentry being here, the Navy’s Strategic Command Wing One is celebrating 25 years on base and the 507th Aerial Refueling Wing is celebrating 45 years of being on Tinker. There’s just been a lot going on with the 75th Anniversary and we’ll close out the year strong, bringing in as many mission partners as we can, from inside and outside the fence line, to help us celebrate this significant milestone.”
The base continues to grow and evolve even as Air Force missions grow and evolve. The next “big thing” for the base?
“We have tons of construction going on right now,” said Bell. “But the most important project is the KC-46A Pegasus maintenance industrial complex. This is the result of a considerable joint effort by the local community and the base. The U.S. Air Force contributed roughly $8 million and the City of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County contributed $36 million for the acquisition of a 158 acre parcel of land, which used to be the BNSF railroad yard. This partnership did a couple of things for us. We were able to deal with the potential security concern the rail yard created while building a location to maintain the KC-46, which will eventually replace the KC-135 – an aircraft that has been flying for more than 60 years. The addition of the KC-46 repair operations will bring approximately 1300 more job opportunities to Tinker under the Quality Jobs program. These types of projects mean that the future of Tinker is bright in supporting national defense!”
To be able to successfully continue to perform the various missions with which the base is charged requires a trained, motivated civilian workforce to augment the military personnel stationed at Tinker.
“We have multiple vo-techs that feed into the employees that get hired for the Air Logistics Complex,” Bell said. “You hire a new person from various walks of life, whether they just left Hobby Lobby, somebody that maybe had previous aircraft mechanical experience, or, in the case of one person, someone who worked for the coroner’s office, and we have the ability to team with the local vo-techs, bring the person on, send them to a 4-6 week course to get them some technical proficiency, bring them back and now we can do the on-the-job training. When you have community support like that to fill the employment requirements that we have and keep the machine running for our national defense, it speaks volumes to the nature of the special relationship between Tinker and the people of Oklahoma.”
So when he allows himself a moment or two to reflect on what his new command means to him personally, what is it that comes to mind?
“Leadership is a passion of mine and I am blessed to be in a leadership position,” he said. “I strongly believe that we are set up to be able to take everything that has been done in the past, the great relationships that have been built and the advancements already made, and move it to the next level. It’s exciting! I am thrilled to be deemed the commander of this great organization that is clicking on all cylinder.”
As the colonel says, the future of Tinker is bright.