122nd rallies ‘Into the future!’

Its future mission uncertain, Fort Wayne’s Air National Guard base paused Thursday to celebrate recent upgrades.

The 122nd Fighter Wing has converted space in three buildings for use as a recruitment center, a family entertainment and wellness area and a community science and technology lab for fifth-grade students.

“Into the future!” yelled a crowd of airmen, contractors, government officials and economic development leaders as a dozen people cut a ribbon at base headquarters marking the improvements.

As part of a cost-cutting realignment planned by the Air Force, the 122nd Fighter Wing learned this month that its squadron of about 20 A-10 attack jets will be replaced with half as many MC-12W propeller airplanes used for surveillance and gathering intelligence. The Indiana National Guard and the state’s congressional delegation are protesting the switch.

“It doesn’t take a scientist to figure this out: We are the most cost-effective capability for this nation,” Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, the state’s adjutant general, said Thursday about the Air Guard.

His was the only reference to the proposed change in planes at the Ferguson Road complex.

“Everything is about the community today,” said Col. David Augustine, the 122nd Fighter Wing commander.

In recent months, the base has remodeled space in existing buildings for:

*A deployment and wellness center for airmen and their families. The area offers many entertainment options – movies, TV, video games, pool table, air hockey, kitchen – as well as psychological, financial and spiritual counseling.

“You recruit the airmen, but you retain the family,” Umbarger said.

*A new recruitment center, near the entrance to the base. While many Guard bases rent storefronts, “we have now become the model for other units,” Tech. Sgt. Kal Slater said, calling the building the “front door” for the base.

Slater noted that the 122nd Fighter Wing has been at full personnel for seven straight years, a target reached by little more than half of National Guard bases across the country. About 1,200 people work at the local base.

*Starbase Indiana, a lab for fifth-graders to learn science, technology, engineering and math. Developed in 1991, the Department of Defense funds the program at more than 70 other bases.

Starbase Indiana started offering programs this week to local schools. It is billed as a “hands-on, minds-on” project that will feature flight simulators, wind tunnels and rocket launches.

Lab director Scott Liebhauser and others credited Augustine for pushing the recent improvements.

“He’s a big thinker. He’s got grand ideas,” Liebhauser said.

“Great vision, sir,” Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Spickelmier told Augustine at one point.

For more on this story see Friday’s print edition of the Journal Gazette or return to www.journalgazette.net after 3 a.m. Friday.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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