Putting up the good flight

Fighter Country enhances Luke Air Force Base

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It seems the simple act of wearing a Fighter Country T-shirt can reap its own rewards.

Executive Director Ron Sites likes to tell the story of how a board member of the foundation was once standing in line at an Arizona Coyotes game when a resident airman of Luke Air Force Base came up to him and thanked him for the contributions Fighter Country, a nonprofit that supports the base, has made to the local military community.

“An airman will say, ‘I cannot thank you enough.’ We love to hear that. That individual feedback blows us away,” Mr. Sites said. “All military bases have a community support arm, but none operate at the level we do. I am constantly reminded how fortunate we are.”

The Fighter Country Partnership and Foundation launched a $5.82 million capital campaign in 2015 and, although fundraising is ongoing, nearly all proposed projects have been completed.

Funds support the airmen, their families and all those in the military who serve at Luke Air Force Base.

Mr. Sites said the projects funded by this campaign -- ranging from a shaded outdoor hockey rink to a child development center -- have already dramatically impacted the lives and morale of servicemen and women, and demonstrated in a concrete way how much the community values those committed to protecting the country.

He said quality of life for the base community is vital to the success of Luke’s ongoing mission.

This includes community advocacy and supporting the base community through  a number of programs, he said.

Facilities at Luke are physically being improved to further the mission, Mr. Sites said.

Most recently a $600,000 Security Forces Guard Mount Room was completed that includes a briefing area, lockers and locker rooms and bathrooms to accommodate three daily shifts.

A $770,000 airman leadership school is in the works. The school needed extensive remodeling to accommodate the current and projected enrollment. Improvements include an additional bathroom, upgraded infrastructure, HVAC, plumbing and electrical, as well as reconfiguration to add capacity and better classroom visibility.

The Airman Leadership School is the final step in becoming a non-commissioned officer, where courses in Air Force history, tradition, supervisory skills and team building are taught. Luke’s Airman Leadership School is the U.S. Air Force’s third-largest, serving Air National Guard and Air Reserve from installations in Arizona, California, Louisiana and Florida, according to their website.

About one-fourth of the campaign, or $1.46 million, will fund Luke’s Honor Guard Headquarters.

Mr. Sites said the honor guard is Luke Air Force Base’s most visible presence in the community, made up of volunteers who, in addition to their regular duties, respond to honor calls from within a 52,000-square-mile area from Page to Yuma, and from Parker to Globe.

On average, the guard schedules 60 details a month and performs about 690 funerals and 350 color guard ceremonies, retirements, weddings, and more annually, according to the foundation’s website.

The foundation is working on securing a donor to begin construction on the headquarters.

Funds will allow for the honor guard to have its own 3,300-square-foot dedicated space for administration, training, storage, drilling and storing equipment .

Due to Department of Defense budget cuts, any project not deemed “mission critical” — aircraft, fuel, maintenance, training, and direct supplies — has not been funded at the base.

This is where Fighter Country Partnership and Foundation has stepped in.

Mr. Sites said the group stems back to when the base’s 1970s-era Luke Fire House No. 1 was consistently declined as not being “mission critical.”

Fighter Country raised $380,000 to fund the renovation, sparking the capital campaign and beginning a trend of private philanthropy that continues today.

James “Rusty” Mitchell, 56th Fighter Wing community initiatives team director, said Fighter Country Foundation and Fighter Country Partnership is certainly one of, if not the most successful military base community support organization in the United States.

“FCF and FCP supports the base community through programs in health and human services, culture and tradition, and mission sustainability. That quality of life for the Luke community is vital to the success of Luke’s ongoing mission. We are indebted and humbled by their support,” he said.

One consistent revenue source is a specialty Arizona license plate depicting an F-35A Joint Striker Jet soaring through the clouds with the message “the sound of freedom.”

Nearly 70% of every license plate sold goes to supporting Fighter Country’s mission.

Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat said the city is grateful for the way Fighter Country takes care of the military and their families.

“The license plate is a great example of a real revenue source, but all the other things (Fighter Country has) done to develop sustainable revenue sources that can do things such as build facilities, it has been an incredible success,” she said.

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