TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The 513th Air Control Group – call sign ’Thumper’ – has officially moved into its new home Sept. 7, after six years of planning, bringing the operations, support and headquarters elements together in the same building for the first time in twenty years.
With representatives from across the Tinker Air Force Base community in attendance, the Airborne Warning and Control System Reserve associate unit dedicated the new 30,000 square foot, two-story facility, also known as Building 461. With inclement weather in the forecast and last-minute maneuvering, the new structure was also the location for the Reserve unit’s family day Sept. 9.
“The new facility offers amenities and capabilities far beyond what is currently available to our Airmen,” said Col. Laurie Dickson, 513th ACG commander. “This new facility offers five times the area, improving the quality of training for all components of our operations elements while being in closer proximity to our active-duty partners at the 552nd Air Control Wing.”
The path to the dedication day began officially May 23, 2012, when Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner, Jr., commander of the Air Force Reserve at the time, delivered his posture statement on the status of the Reserve to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense. Stenner was a proponent of the associate unit concept and said he recognized that active-duty squadrons were struggling to get pilots the experience and time they needed, while the Reserve had experienced mentors and availability.
“The Air Force leverages the expertise of the Reserve Component through associate constructs in which units…share equipment and facilities to carry out a common mission,” Stenner said to the subcommittee. “We have established a wide variety of associate units throughout the Air Force, combining the assets and manpower…to establish Total Force units that capitalize on the strengths of each individual component.”
Prior to his testimony, Stenner visited many Reserve associate units across the Air Force, including the 513th ACG. In hopes that better facilities could lead to improved training and mentorship of Reserve Airmen, he started the process for construction to begin on Building 461. With $13 million in congressional appropriations gathered, matured and ready, a contract was awarded on Feb. 26, 2016, to begin construction.
507th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Director of Facilities, Joseph Wade, said this project wasn’t a renovation of the existing structure, but a removal of previous structures that had been on-site. The project called for the construction of a new building entirely, including modified underground utilities necessary to maintain a state-of-the-art structure appropriate for a 21st-century AWACS mission.
“We encountered several challenges and delays, but we overcame all of them,” said Wade. “Our people worked together and we’ve built an outstanding home for the 513th Air Control Group that can stand proudly for decades to come and support future generations of Thumpers.”
The new facility is more than just an aesthetic interior. The 30,000 square foot structure features a 250-seat auditorium, a gym with locker rooms and showers, a fully-outfitted flight medical suite and a heritage hall to highlight the history of the group. Paintings from the Air Force Art Program office, as well as works by 465th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator and artist, Senior Master Sgt. Darby Perrin, are slated to be featured in the heritage hall to serve as a reminder for AWACS Airmen the legacy they live up to everyday.
“This new facility represents more than an investment in the AWACS mission, but also in the Airmen who stand ready to provide combat-ready theater battle management forces and mobile command and control to America’s fighting forces and those of our allies,” said Dickson.
The 552nd Air Control Wing commander, Col. Geoffrey Weiss, attended the ceremony and emphasized how he thinks the new building will strengthen ties between the Thumpers and their active duty counterparts.
“At the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, AWACS deploys, operates and supports these forces worldwide, ensuring combat capability for all peacetime and contingency operations. Many of those missions today have Reservists working hard to make those missions succeed. Building 461 is a testament to the confidence and faith of our leaders in the Reserve Airmen who make up our amazing AWACS Reserve associate unit.”