Saturday, December 14, 2013

908th AW celebrates 50th anniversary

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 video presentations.

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 shutdown.

"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 spread.

"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 serve."

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."

No comments: