LAUGHLIN AFB

Airmen gain new way of connecting with local community

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Story by Amn Hannah Bean on 02/01/2019
COLUMBUS, Miss. Members of the local community welcomed Airmen, friends and family members to the first Enlisted Partnership dinner Jan. 24 at Thai by Thai in Columbus, Mississippi.

The Enlisted Partnership Program helps connect enlisted personnel with civic leaders from the Columbus-Lowndes community and provide new Airmen with a home away from home.

"We want to welcome our new permanent party enlisted airmen to Columbus and the 14th flying training wing," said Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander. "Our goal for this program is to lay the foundation for connection with each other and the community. Stronger partnerships across career fields better enable us to complete our mission and stronger partnerships with the community are crucial to the strength of our military and national defense."

Community leaders and 14th FTW leadership welcomed everyone in attendance, adding thanks to everyone who helped make the partnership a reality. They hope to continue to make it a better experience for all.

"Take advantage and become involved in the community," said Gary Laughlin, 14th FTW honorary command chief and an independent auditor and consultant. "Get to know people, let them help you and share with you the experience of what (this city has to offer)."

Laughlin added that the enlisted are a major part of the base and pilots cannot be created without aide from enlisted members.

"My focus at Columbus AFB has been, to the greatest extent possible, taking care of the enlisted," Laughlin said. "You don't produce pilots without a lot of enlisted work. It takes the whole team to make it work."

Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th FTW commander, highlighted the close-knit relationship of the city and base, thanking those who took the initiative to find a new way to connect Airmen with the community.

"You guys are permanent party and that's why we changed the mission to Cultivate Airmen first," Weeks said. "It has to be about each and every one of us to make sure that we are stronger, better for our national defense and our Air Force through this assignment, so that we can go on and continue to serve in a greater capacity for our Air Force and our nation."

Weeks added that she hopes Airmen will utilize this opportunity to not stay on base during their time off. To help with that, Barbara Bigelow, director of Main Street Columbus and 14th FTW honorary commander, talked about various events and community activities going on in the upcoming months.

"I hope that you will get out, get into town, see everything that they have to offer and really draw those ties even tighter together so that the next generation of Team BLAZE Airmen have an even more phenomenal experience in Columbus, Mississippi," she said.

After the opening remarks from Laughlin, Weeks and Chief Master Sgt. Raul Villarreal, Jr., 14th Flying Training Wing command chief, Airmen socialized, dined and interacted with people from the community.

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