by Pat Gallagher, Military Affairs, Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce
In the 1990s the Honorary Commander program was introduced on McConnell Air Force Base (AFB) and approximately twenty local business leaders were partnered with military members on base who, when it could be arranged, had a job on base that was somewhat similar to that of the civilian with whom he/she was matched. Some Honorary Commanders became frequent visitors on base participating in group or squadron activities and any other base opportunity that was open to them.
McConnell AFB later introduced the Golden Eagle award to recognize outstanding volunteer service and as a vehicle for base leadership to thank Honorary Commanders for their exceptional dedication. Only seven civilians have been named Golden Eagles since the program started.
First among those to earn the award were Robin Spurrier (Spurrier Chemical Companies), Keith Lesher (Lesher Investments) and Bob Dool (Mid-Continent Safety). Jack Pulley with Davis-Moore Automotive Group was the fourth Eagle selected. Rael Hodgson with State Farm Insurance was named Eagle number five and I became a Golden Eagle in 2009. Wayne Roberts with Pioneer Balloon was selected for the award in 2011.
All of the Golden Eagles have been in leadership positions with the Friends of McConnell (FOM), the civilian support organization that has provided financial support to airmen and family related programs and events on McConnell for 60 years. The FOM is an affiliate of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Three Golden Eagles have recently been selected to join the McConnell Eagle rank: Frank Suellentrop (Legacy Bank); James Havers-Strong (ABI Group); and Joel Rodell (Hutton Construction). All three business leaders have been exemplary supporters of their commanders, the airmen and their families. They are worthy recipients of this unique recognition.
Col. Josh M. Olson, 22nd ARW commander said, “We welcome these three outstanding community leaders to the prestigious Golden Eagles. The group is a direct reflection of the unsurpassed support our Airmen receive from this community. We look forward to work with them as we support combat air-refueling options downrange and bring on the next generation tanker in the upcoming months.”
Rodell said, “Becoming a Golden Eagle is a humbling experience and I look forward to contributing to the program. McConnell is a tremendous asset to Wichita and the surrounding communities. The opportunity to collaborate at a deeper level and help support their mission is something I’m very excited to be part of.”
Suellentrop agreed with Rodell and added that “It’s a great surprise and honor for me. Laura and I have really enjoyed our time as Honorary Commanders.”
We congratulate the newest Golden Eagles and thank all the Chamber members who strive to make McConnell AFB a great assignment for all those serving our country. Please contact the Chamber (316-268-1157) if you’d like to learn more about how you or your company can become more actively involved with the Friends of McConnell.