Vance inducts new Partners in the Sky

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  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Four community leaders from Northwest Oklahoma and Southern Kansas were inducted as Vance Partners in the Sky June 10 in a ceremony at the Vance Collocated Club.

A Vance Partner in the Sky is an honorary member of Team Vance who earns a lifetime-appointment membership with the base in exchange for their outstanding commitment to the welfare and growth of Airmen stationed here.

Since the program’s inception Dec. 11, 1996, only 10 members had been inducted.

There are a lot of people in this community who help this wing, said Col. Clark Quinn, the 71st Flying Training Wing commander. “They don’t just help the base itself, they reach out to the Airmen of this wing, whether it’s me, the leadership team or the youngest Airman.”

These helping hands range from friendly members of the Chamber of Commerce and a firm handshake at the Enid Welcome Center, to honorary commanders and retirees who participate in events like graduations and assignment night, said Quinn.

Based solely on genuine friendliness, almost every person in Enid could be a Partner in the Sky. But a deeper look reveals some individuals whose impact goes above and beyond.

The newest Vance Partners in the Sky are an interesting group.

Steve Barnes, the director of the Garfield County Expo Center north of Enid, is a flying training class sponsor and attends many events on base, to include pilot graduations, assignment nights and annual awards ceremonies.

Barnes has been participating in events at Vance for the better part of 15 years.

George Pankonin is a retired Air Force major, vice president of the local chapter of the Air Force Association and a Vance Development Authority board member.

He serves as an Enlisted Appreciation Night board member, flying training class sponsor, director of the Vance Retiree Activities Office, board member for 4RKids and is a driving force behind the Special Olympics hosted at Vance annually.

Bill Schwertfeger is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and Vance pilot training graduate. He survived 407 days in the Hanoi Hilton, a prisoner of war camp in North Vietnam.

Often referred to by his call sign -- “Shortfinger” -- Schwertfeger drives nearly an hour from Kansas for every pilot graduation and assignment night at Vance.

He mentors student pilots, instructor pilots and enlisted Airmen in Airmen Leadership School. Schwertfeger attends and speaks at many Order of Daedalians meetings and even started up a Vance River Rats chapter for pilots.

Mike Sloniker is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam War helicopter pilot called “Loadhacker” by his friends.

Sloniker also mentors student and instructor pilots and enlisted Airmen at Airmen Leadership School.

He started a program that finds scholarship money for enlisted Airmen seeking to finish their bachelor’s degrees. He also attends most Order of Daedalians meetings and is a founding member of the local River Rats chapter along with Schwertfeger.

Traditionally, Partners in the Sky are civilians with no link to the military. However, due to the unparalleled lifetime commitment of three of the new members, Quinn made an exception to policy and granted them membership in Vance’s most exclusive club.

“It’s quite an honor for me,” said Barnes. “The guys accepted today for the Partners in the Sky are great men who have done great things with their careers.

“And for me, just an old plow boy from Enid, it’s an honor. I’m in a very elite group and I’m very honored by that,” said Barnes.