Columbus AFB, local community celebrate Air Force’s 71st birthday

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Kara Crennan
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

More than 400 people attended the Columbus Air Force Base Air Force birthday ball Sept. 22, at the Trotter Convention Center in Columbus, Mississippi.

Not only was it the 71st birthday of the Air Force, but also the 20th anniversary of the BLAZE logo, and the 77th year of partnership between the base and Columbus community, hence the theme “Partners in Progress.”

“One of our committee members, who is from Columbus, thought it would be a great idea to honor the community after realizing it was the 77th year that the Air force has been here,” said Capt. Sean Zarsky, president of the Air Force birthday ball planning committee. “We wanted to celebrate the community, they have played a big role in us being here. Columbus Air Force Base would not be here without their support.”

Part of the opening ceremony included a prisoner of war and missing in action remembrance ceremony with the audience honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country.

Columbus was honored to have multiple POW’s from the local community who took part in the ceremony including retired Col. Smitty Harris, Vietnam War POW for seven years, Gene Smith, Vietnam War POW for five years. Jo Shumake and Rufus Ward Jr. were also in attendance as their fathers were honored as POW’s from World War II.

After the POW/MIA ceremony, the audience sat to enjoy dinner and a video which highlighted the continued partnership between the community and Columbus AFB going all the way back to 1941.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jack Catton Jr., former 14th Flying Training Wing commander and guest speaker for the evening, expressed his fondness for the Columbus community during his speech and recalled a moment when a friend asked what his favorite Air Force assignment was and he answered “Columbus AFB, Mississippi because the generous patriotic people of the Golden Triangle provided the best community support to an air base in any of our 17 assignments and over 30 plus years of service.”

Catton also recounted to the audience how the Team BLAZE logo came to be. In 1998, after asking the wing to come up with team names and finding none that sparked his interest, he went on a run to clear his head. While running, the idea struck him to create an acronym. After recently hearing the new Air Force core values pushed out by the chief of staff of the Air Force at the time, Catton thought of BLAZE – building leaders, advancing integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do.

“My med group commander said ‘I like it, but that acronym is also the word ‘blasé.’’ Catton said. “So we put a big zorro styled Z in the logo and put integrity and service in the Z. BLAZE was born. The wing and community got behind this 100 percent.”

Catton mentioned how much he liked how Columbus AFB’s new mission of Cultivate Airmen, Creating Pilots and Connect, fit so well with what Team BLAZE stands for.

“Cultivate Airmen, Create Pilots, Connect. You know why I love that? Because it acknowledges the priority of building leaders of character who can fly fight and win our nations wars and at the same time be a standup citizen and partner in the local community. That is what BLAZE is all about,” he said.

When Catton finished his speech, he and Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander, presented a donation to George Irby, Director of Federal Programs for the City of Columbus, and the Happy Irby Christmas Fund.

Following Catton’s speech and several presentations, Weeks offered a few words of her own. She went on to say that the way forward with training across the Air Force is changing because of the new technology which is allowing Airmen to be trained better and faster.

“We created 345 pilots this year and most importantly, have an adaptive innovative syllabus using changes to take advantage of virtual reality and augmented reality while upholding the standards on what it means to be an Air Force aviator,” she said.

Not only is technology causing a re-evaluation of traditional training, but the change in Airmen, from older to younger generations, is also causing supervisors to re-evaluate traditional ways of leading.

“Our Airmen work a little bit different today than previous generations and absolutely need to have purpose in what they do,” Weeks said. “Our chief asked us to help connect the dots for those Airmen. Show each one of them how they connect to the mission.”

To close her speech, Weeks thanked the community for all they have done from supporting the original base, established in 1941 for the Army Air Corp, to their continued support of Columbus AFB as its known today.

“Without our community, we are on an island and our Columbus community has never allowed that to be our reality,” Weeks said. “Thank you for everything you do for each and every single one of our airmen and families.”