From essay winners to decorated generals to the ordinary GIs that make the whole system operate, Military Appreciation Week 2011 culminated Saturday at the Sierra Blanca Regional Airport with a glimpse of America’s war power housed at several military bases in the southeast New Mexico area.
Participants included assets from Holloman Air Force Base, Cannon Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss, Texas as well as representatives from the New Mexico National Guard.
The spirit of MAW 2011 was evident early as the Ruidoso High School Ensemble teamed up with musicians from the 44th Army Band Ensemble to provide the patriotism-filled backdrop for the festivities.
Ruidoso Mayor Ray Alborn presented a “Key to the Village” to U.S. Army Col. Randy Lane, chief of staff for Joint Task Force North at Fort Bliss and U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Doug Murray, dean of the New Mexico Military Institute congratulated winners of the MAW essay contest.
Millie Woods, president of the MAW committee, acknowledged that recent difficulties with the federal and defense budgets reached a local fruition Saturday, with the lack of availability of an official military flyover for MAW.
Cutbacks at local military installations restricted their ability to participate as fully as commanders would like, Woods said, and when combined with an important base-wide Operational Readiness Inspection at Holloman, aspects like providing aircraft for a Saturday flyover were simply unattainable.
“Initially we had plans for two F-22s from Holloman, but then came the OIR, which can be a real career changer for an Air Force officer,” Woods said. MAW then turned to Cannon to provide a Predator drone, but the late request combined with a disassemble/assemble time frame of nearly a day, took the Predator out of the flyby equation. All available National Guard aircraft were likewise unavailable due to previous commitments or deployments.
Hence, MAW 2011 was opened by local pilot Ron Massey in his 1954 Super Cub, which even Woods admitted might have left the crowd wondering about the military’s commitment to the weekend.
The crowd of attendees, too, was “down significantly” from previous MAWs, Woods admitted, which Woods said could be a result of moving the activities to SBRA.
MAW was formerly held at Ruidoso Downs Race Track.
“It may very well be that the airport is just too far out of town for some people,” Woods said. “It will be one of the many things we discuss during our ‘after action review’.”
Still, for youngsters like 13-year-old Isaiah Soto, MAW provided for a hands-on opportunity to touch and operate sophisticated military gear and to talk briefly with soldiers, sailors and airmen about life in the military.
“I could see this being in my future,” Soto said while testing out a PSS-14 ground penetration radar unit under the guidance of U.S. Army Spec. Joseph Chrisman.
Kids of all ages climbed into a Buffalo Armored Vehicle, where they could operate the controls of the massive armor-protected war machine that is designed to take massive direct impacts from the IEDs so often utilized against U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Suk, a U.S. Air Force “working dog” from Cannon put on a biting display of discipline under the careful command of his handler, SSgt. Kenneth Holt and the well-padded participation of the “bad guy/terrorist” role portrayed by SSgt Erik Henrikson.