by Gene H. Hughes
908th Airlift Wing
12/13/2013 - MAXWELL AIRFORCE BASE, Ala. -- The
908th Airlift Wing, Alabama's only Air Force Reserve unit, celebrated
50 years of service to the country Dec. 7 with a gala event at the
Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Montgomery.
More than 1,000 current and former members spanning the unit's five
decades were in attendance for the festivities, traveling from as far as
Texas and even Hong Kong.
"I joined the 908th in April of 1988 -- 10 wing commanders ago," said
Senior Master Sgt. James Rickels, loadmaster superintendant of the 357th
Airlift Squadron. "Seeing my first wing commander was fun, also my
first three squadron commanders. I saw numerous friends and
acquaintances, some of whom I haven't seen in 15-plus years."
Among the distinguished guests were Alabama Lt. Governor Kay Ivey,
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and several former commanders. Although
unable to attend, U.S. Representatives Mike Rogers and Martha Roby and
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley communicated their congratulations via
Planning for the event began in earnest in early fall, with the
formation of a planning committee, which held weekly meetings. Master
Sgt Jon Butterbaugh led the committee , ensuring preparations stayed on
track, despite the challenges of sequestration and a government
"Our initial guidance was to put together an elegant event with maximum
participation which would capture the significance of our 50 years," he
said. "Our initial hurdles were choosing the location, the four-month
timeframe, and of course, our current fiscal climate."
"The celebration was quite an undertaking," said Chief Master Sgt.
Connie Rollins. "Fundraising was a big effort requiring every group and
squadron to get involved. Each was committed to raising a portion of the
funds so member ticket costs could be kept at a reasonable price."
Embassy Suites was chosen to host the celebration. Afterwards, committee members said it was the best decision they'd made.
"Everyone from the sales department, food and beverage, lodging, and the
chef went out of their way to ensure we were impressed," Butterbaugh
said. "Their willingness to accommodate our budget, anticipate problems,
provide additional rooms, and allow use of their beautiful atrium made
the night what it was."
Another unknown was unit participation. With the summer furloughs, the
recent government shutdown and with the upcoming holidays, budgets would
be tight for everyone. Originally, the committee estimated an
attendance between 350 and 500. Shortly after ticket sales began, the
number had soared to more than 500, and even higher as word of the event
"Initially hoping for 350 guests, an audible had to be called when we
hit 800 tickets sold after the first month of sales," Butterbaugh said.
"All together, we had approximately 1,100 guests, several of which were
members' families. I feel this crucially important as they may not often
have the opportunity to get to know those with whom their loved ones
Surrounded by good food, music and displays commemorating the wing's 50
years, alumni and current members mingled, sharing stories of
camaraderie, sacrifice and service. Many alumni and current longtime
members remarked the event was the best they'd ever seen, commenting on
the elegance of the layout and the atmosphere.
"One long retired member told me he thought some of his friends were no
longer with us, until he saw them at the celebration," said Butterbaugh.
"It was great for him to reconnect, and now he has their contact
information for the future. I truly knew this event was a success when I
witnessed two alumni embracing in the atrium, one wiping away a tear."
Early in the evening there were two huge screens showing the
Auburn-Missouri football game. Given the size of the crowd, 908th's 50th
Anniversary event was also one of, if not the largest, SEC Championship
game watch parties in the state.
Chief Master Sgt. Gary Looney, a 25-year member of the wing, said the
event was one of the finest military functions he has seen.
"It was great to see my old friends and to meet current wing members,"
he said "Hopefully the newer members saw that we older members came out,
and understand they haven't joined just a unit, but a family. It was an
awesome event, and my hat is off to those who put it together."