By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE —
In the summer of 1941 construction began south of Enid on what would begin life as U.S. Army Air Corps Flying School Enid.
For all practical purposes, construction at what is now Vance Air Force Base never has stopped.
“It’s a giant puzzle, in a lot of ways,” said Col. Tim Gibson, commander of 71st Mission Support Group. “I think Vance is a work in progress, and it always should be.”
Even as projects are being completed and dirt is turned on ongoing work, plans are under way for new buildings that will grace the base well into the future.
All construction at Vance is centered around the wing’s mission to “develop airmen, deliver world-class aviators and deploy airmen,” Gibson said.
Vance has area development plans for different sections of the base, Gibson said. There is one for the flight line, another for the industrial section, including base civil engineering and vehicle control functions, and yet another for the community section, which includes the base exchange, commissary and education centers, among others. The two busiest, said Danika Stidham, Vance community planner, are the community section and the flight line.
“We are interested in taking care of the people on base and making sure the mission gets done,” she said.
“Each of those development plans interacts to support one of those three mission areas,” Gibson said, “so that, over the course of time, Vance’s capability to keep performing those missions is enhanced, and we are gaining new capability as mission requirements dictate, and we are renovating and replacing capability as structures age and need to be upgraded.”
During the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure round, Vance’s infrastructure received several “red” ratings, designating problem areas that needed to be addressed. One of those was the fact so many World War II-era buildings still were in use at that time.
Today, the vast majority of the original base structures have been replaced. Only three remain, the base chapel, the water tower and Hangar 170.
“We make pretty good use of those structures, still,” said Gibson, “but there’s certainly some that need to be upgraded.”
Vance has a goal of reducing its environmental footprint by 20 percent by the year 2020.
“That is one of the primary considerations, to go ahead and upgrade structures that don’t continue to be useful to you,” Gibson said.
An example would be Vance’s planned consolidated skills development center, which will combine the base’s arts and crafts center, which offers woodworking tools and instruction, and the auto skills center, which offers car repair tools and classes. The $2.8 million skills center is in the design stage.
One of Vance’s nearly completed construction projects is the nearly 68,000-square-foot Armed Forces Reserve Center located near the south end of the base. The AFRC, with a total cost of some $20 million, is set to be formally turned over to the U.S. Army Reserve and Oklahoma National Guard later this year.
In 2010 a $7.7 million fuel cell maintenance facility was completed. The facility is designed to keep workers and the environment safe when fuel tanks are removed from aircraft during maintenance and inspection. Also, Vance’s Radar Approach Control Facility underwent a renovation, plus a change from analog to digital radar technology.
One project in the final design stage is the base’s new $10.7 million control tower. Ground for the new tower will be broken later this year.
“That will give us a much more modern tower to operate from,” Gibson said.
One of the design challenges for the new tower, said Lou Hollis, Vance civil engineer, is prompted by concerns about terrorism. The tower must be designed to remain standing even if one of the four pillars supporting it is removed.
“If you have a bomb that blows up one corner, it should stay,” Hollis said.
“Since 9/11, anti-terrorism and force protection considerations have got to be factored into everything we do, whether it is redesigning a road or building a new building,” Gibson said.
Last summer, a hailstorm damaged several Vance aircraft and vehicles, some of which had to be taken out of service for a time, including 10 T-6s that were grounded for several weeks. As a result, members of the Air Force Civil Engineering and Environmental Agency came to Vance earlier this year and developed a plan for the Vance flight line. The plan would move entities from one building to another, freeing up room to house planes and vehicles or allowing demolition of old buildings and construction of new ones to house aircraft.
Vance also is planning to renovate and add to existing buildings to house all its flying training squadrons and academic offices in the same area near the flight line. The base currently is 17,000-square-feet short of the space it needs for the number of students and instructors it has. The consolidated air squadron training space will be a phased project, the first phase pegged at $11.8 million, with the second costing just more than $9 million.
Some Vance projects, like the planned consolidated skills development center, are built with non-appropriated funds. But many more projects must be funded by Congress. Virtually all of those in recent years have been through add-ons to the defense budget, primarily championed by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. Another term for add-on is earmark, a bad word in Washington these days, which may make funding for the planned flight line projects problematical.
“Which doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility, or the desire, to have a plan to continue to mature the base and make sure that, regardless of how the mission needs shift, that we are adaptable enough to meet those,” Gibson said.
Vance’s overall development plan, dubbed “Vance 2035,” is reviewed annually, said Stidham.
“It evolves every year,” she said. “Realistically, based on funding in the recent past, it would go beyond 2035.”
“As leadership changes and mission needs change, the priorities shift a little bit,” Gibson said.
Meanwhile, work continues at Vance. Presently, Gibson said, there are some 23 projects going on at the base. Taxiways and runways are being upgraded. The outside runway soon will undergo work to extend its useful life. Work is nearly completed on the flight line perimeter fence, base tennis courts are being upgraded, and the Vance historic air park is set to open later this year north of the base visitor’s center. Just like in the civilian world, roads must be repaired after the ravages of winter, and there are $2.8 million worth of planned upgrades of the base’s enlisted dormitories.
“There’s a lot of good work going on,” Gibson said.