Who knew Vance really is a hidden gem

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. L. Michelle Stringer
  • 71st Security Forces Squadron commander
I was caught off guard when I was told that I had to do a commander's commentary this week. Who knew? Who knew that 730 days, the approximate time a commander leads a unit, would go by so quickly?

Who knew when I arrived 680 days ago, I would be wishing I could stay a little bit longer in Enid America. I spent two summers in a row on crutches trying to get a bum ankle fixed -- just call me "Bionica" -- so I was unable to enjoy the outdoors as much as I wanted to. Now I've got my weekends booked so I can enjoy some of Oklahoma's sights.

As I prepare to leave Vance I can't help but reflect on the memories that I have made here. Who knew one of my joys would be watching the students graduate from pilot training. What a diverse group of officers. Who knew we would find an ex-New York SWAT instructor and an infantry tactician among a pool of Maverick wannabes.

They opened my eyes and gave me a different perspective. From track select to assignment night to graduation, what a milestone in the students' lives. It was a brotherhood that I will never be a part of, but at least I was able to share in their joy.

Who knew quarterly awards, yearly awards, professional military education graduations and of course, monthly wing recognition ceremonies, would spark enthusiasm. I've enjoyed screaming "Defenders" and waiting for the men and women of the 71st Security Forces Squadron to scream "Lock and Load!"

Over time watching the groups and even the squadrons come up with their famous battle cries has been a riot. Who could resist yelling "Clear" after hearing "Med Group." I'll miss the wing camaraderie.

Remember the air show, Special Olympics and perhaps the base yard sales? When we opened the gates the people came to see what was going on at Vance. Who knew the air show would draw a crowd of more than 41,000 spectators to see the B-1 bomber and the Thunderbirds.

Our neighbors who aren't military affiliated wanted to see what it is we do and what our "city" looks like. The day started out cloudy with a couple of sprinkles but that didn't stop our neighbors from celebrating their good old American Spirit with us.

Who knew that a significant event like our 15-day labor dispute would put Vance AFB on the map? Those who didn't know it came to realize how heavily we rely on our contract partners to do our day-to-day operations.

Who knew that Vance really was a hidden gem within the Air Force. My first impression of the base was that it was small -- I mean very small. It didn't even have a stop light.

I showed up with two yellow labs and now I'll be departing with three yellow labs and a Weimaraner. Who knew I would foster the animals and they would become a part of my Air Force family.

I remember my Chief asking what I wanted to do for my promotion ceremony. I told him I wanted to do something different that was combat related, have the youngest Airman and the senior ranking Airman in the unit pin me and I wanted to use a bayonet to cut off my old rank. Who knew the senior noncommissioned officers in the unit would exceed my expectations, leaving me on cloud nine and speechless.

Who knew that this assignment would be so rewarding that I would be blessed to command yet another squadron. I've been given the opportunity to lead more than 600 warriors for the next 730 days of my life and I am elated to do so.

Great things come in unexpected packages and in ways that sometimes we just don't see right away. I do know that even the youngest warrior in my unit has contributed to my success and I am forever grateful.

Who knew?