Med group commander reflects on life, family, two years at Vance

  • Published
  • By Col James Calhoun
  • 71st Medical Group
As my two-year assignment as a commander at Vance Air Force Base draws to a close this summer, I wanted to take a moment to look back and comment on the things that mean the most to me, both as an Air Force member and as a proud resident of Enid, America.
When I received the notification of my selection as a medical group commander, I was ecstatic!
I was going to California! Yeah, I thought Vance AFB was Vandenberg AFB at first. A few seconds later I realized that Vance AFB was not in California, but in Oklahoma. I will not tell you what came out of my mouth next. My commander at Andrews AFB, Md., Brig Gen Barbara Brannon, told me that Vance AFB would be the best assignment of my career. She should know, since she was the clinic commander here a few administrations back.
I nodded and smiled, then went to check exactly where on the map Enid was ... again.
Now, almost two years later, I wholeheartedly agree with her. After 27 years in the Air Force, Vance AFB has been my best assignment ever ... not because of my job as the medical group commander, but because of the people, both on base and off.
I'm a very proud Texan, and as you know, it's always bigger and better in Texas, including the hospitality. The very first thing I noticed about the people of Enid was how friendly and helpful they were. I know some of you are thinking, "Of course people are going to be nice to you, you're a colonel." But this observation occurred my first week in town, prior to my change of command. Enid is also one of the safest towns I've ever had the privilege of living in. Coming from places like Washington, D.C. and San Antonio, I'd forgotten what it felt like to know my kids would be coming home from school in one piece. I've never known that the newspaper dealt with things like wheat prices, how many oil wells were in production and who won the latest round of Future Farmers of America beef trials. I guess for too many years, I was used to seeing mayhem and bad news.
Family values and downright courtesy are the hallmarks of Enid and Team Vance. In my first article for the Airscoop, I talked about being a role model for your children, peers and subordinates. I'm happy to say we have role models as far as the eye can see. Our airmen (be they officers or enlisted) put themselves out in the community constantly, showing our civilian compatriots everything that's good about the military, and the Air Force specifically.
Many of my assignments have been at operational bases; however this was my first time at an undergraduate pilot training base. I have always admired military pilots (some would say I'm a pilot wannabe), but since coming to Vance AFB I've attained a more devout appreciation for our instructor pilots. Our IPs give these young men and women the tools to join a very elite group; the very best aviators known to man. Simply, they turn pedestrians into swaggering and "cocky" pilots. Swaggering and cocky is a good thing, because when they take to the skies, they -- and more importantly their enemies -- know who owns the skies. Oh yeah, and somewhere during the training process, IPs teach these young pilots how to do that funny thing with their flight caps (wassup with that?). Trust me, I am envious of all the students here, I would gladly trade in my eagles -- not for wings, but rather a UPT slot ... because as we all know, those wings have to be earned.
So what lessons will I take away from my command at the 71st Medical Group? I learned that I've never seen a more mutually dedicated community. Enid supports Vance AFB, and the airmen here give it right back.
I was shown, again and again, that the men and women in the 71st Medical Group are the best in the Air Force ... bar none! To have the Air Force Surgeon General name our clinic as the best in the entire Air Force only proved what I'd known since I stepped foot in the door.
While our young airmen (again, officers and enlisted) often report there is nothing to do at Vance AFB and Enid, I've discovered that at small bases like this, you're allowed to invest more of yourself in friends and family ... something infinitely more valuable than seeing the latest movie, visiting the mall or going to the game.
As a final parting thought for those of you who know me ... let's stick a fork in it and call it done!