Strong community partnerships bolster 173rd FW’s mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

When American forces needed to train fledgling pilots during WWII, Kingsley Field was born in the Klamath Basin, a small, rural community in Southern Oregon.

Over the next 70 years the base transitioned from an active Navy base, to an active Air Force Base, and then to an Air National Guard base. Over those years, its members lived in town, raised their children, fished, hunted and generally enjoyed living in a small community surrounded by mountains and forests.

Those years have forged a partnership between the Kingsley Field and the local community. The 173rd Fighter Wing is the third largest employer in the city of Klamath Falls and it infuses an estimated 80-million dollars into the local economy.

It is vital for the wing’s mission as well. Today the 173rd FW is the sole provider for F-15 Eagle air superiority, bolstered by the largest flying ranges in the Air National Guard, excellent flying weather, and an unparalleled level of support from the local community.

“I think it’s probably one of our top three strengths,” said Col. Jeff Smith, the 173rd Fighter Wing Commander. “Our community literally asks us ‘how can we do more to help you’, they want to shore us up ensure that we have a future because we are so intertwined with them inside the local area.”

Recently, they did just that. The base’s lease was approaching 25 years to expiration.  It was important to extend it, because the Department of Defense requires more than 25 years to fund construction projects, and Kingsley Field has ongoing construction projects that support its expanding capacity.

“When they asked us to extend the lease, the first question we had was ‘how long can we extend it?’ and the Air Force said 50 years,” said Klamath Falls City Manager Nathan Cherpeski. He went on to say that they were able to add that time to the existing lease, pushing the expiration out to 2095.

That relationship helped secure the longest lease of any base in the Air National Guard.

“The partnership is one that works well,” said Klamath Falls Mayor, Carol Westfall, during a signing ceremony. “We believe it will make our community one of the best places to live and work and be part of.”

There are other advantages to the close relationship with the community. Smith mentioned recent meetings between active duty stakeholders for the active association, including the National Guard Bureau, Luke Air Force Base, and Air Education and Training Command. The meetings served to address concerns, primarily with housing and healthcare arising from the arrival of the active duty Airmen, and how to best move forward. With a week’s notice the Mayor, City Manager Cherpeski, the city council, and county commissioners all attended the meeting.

“All we had to do is say ‘we do need some help’ and they came to this meeting with solutions already underway,” said Smith.

Among the solutions are plans to develop additional rental properties, as well as programs to increase the number of available primary care providers—all initiatives the city and other agencies have undertaken to support the wing, as well as the community.

“They truly are committed, they truly care. We have a bright future based on that relationship and the willingness to work together going forward,” said Smith.