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A day in the life: Ellsworth spouse shadows commander

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- The elevator doors opened, and I felt my heart pounding in my chest.

I walked through and saw the 28th Mission Support Group command section doors; excited that today was the day spouse voices will be heard by base leadership.

I was ecstatic. I reminded myself that I could do this. I could make Ellsworth Air Force Base spouses proud.

Col. Trent Edwards, 28th MSG commander, greeted me with a big smile, and said, "Your timing is perfect; we're just about to start the staff meeting."

During the meeting, I was able to watch Colonel Edwards and six squadron commanders function as the perfect team. They talked about good things and the bad things that are going on in each of their squadrons, without distinction. They all do very different jobs, as part of a larger team. That team shares victories and failures, equally.

After the meeting, Colonel Edwards and I sat down with Lt. Col. Matthew Joganich, 28th Civil Engineer Squadron commander. Both of them were very eager to help make life better on base, for Airmen and spouses. They were especially interested in learning what spouses had to say, and committed themselves to making changes.

They also shared details about any activities the wing leadership were doing to enhance the quality of life for everyone. For example, Colonel Joganich told me that Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro, 28th Bomb Wing commander, was dedicated to putting in four expectant mother parking spots -two at the Ellsworth Base Exchange and two at the commissary.

We also discussed housing issues.

They agreed that issues with appliances can be frustrating. Colonel Edwards suggested that if after two or three calls to housing maintenance the problem still exists, residents should contact James English, 28th CES housing facilities chief, at 385-2575.

The issue of mold in base housing came up, especially for people with severe allergies. Colonel Edwards said there is an inspection process for mold. If the results are unfavorable, actions are taken to ensure the safety of residents. A quick call to the housing office at 385-2570 should get the inspection process going.

We talked about snow removal.

"When a winter weather warning is announced, the snow removal team shows up before the storm," said Lt. Col. Launa Bellucci, 28th MSG deputy commander. "Once the storm starts, they work around the clock until the snow is removed. The flightline is top priority, followed by the main traffic arteries of the base."

Colonel Bellucci said the roads in housing would be plowed faster, if vehicles were not parked on the street during snow removal. I learned that we all have to do our part, so these teams can do their job successfully.

We also discussed the Centennial Estates transition.

Once the Hunt Development Group takes control of Centennial Estates, Aug. 1, basic allowance for housing and rent will no longer match.

"It will become like any civilian housing: they set the price and from there Airmen decide what they can afford," said Colonel Edwards. "However, in order to foster a stronger community, Hunt has decided that the Centennial Community Center will remain open for occupants to use."

Colonel Edwards said that the town hall meetings are essential for Airmen and spouses to get information about the transition.

Next up was the Child Development Center.

I expressed concern about two issues spouses provided to me: the cost of childcare and the number of children getting sick. Colonel Edwards said he would research the rules regarding sick children. Unfortunately, having a separate room for sick children isn't an option, because of space issues.

While the issue of child illness is handled at the wing level, the pricing for care comes from the Department of Defense. The DoD establishes fees based on salaries. New rates, recently released, were raised slightly, but they added the option of having a multiple-child discount.

Colonel Edwards is very excited about the newly renovated PRIDE Hangar.

"After a $200,000 upgrade, the use of the PRIDE Hangar can now be focused on the fitness of our Airmen," he said. "Even though Airmen use it for their fitness, the PRIDE Hangar is open to anyone with base access."

People can bring in toys or soccer balls so they or their children can play inside. However, it's important that everyone clean up after themselves, so that the new facility can be maintained and used for its intended purpose.

We got a chance to tour the Bellamy Fitness Center.

We were greeted at the door by Richard Ives, 28th Force Support Squadron fitness center director. Mr. Ives said that he loves hearing what the issues people have with the fitness center, because, "it's the only way to improve the facility."

I was able to share concerns about the pool, the family fitness room and the possibility of adding a playroom. Colonel Edwards is currently looking into turning one of the racquetball courts into a playroom for families to use. Mr. Ives was very receptive to the ideas presented, and said changes would begin soon.

Mr. Ives also said the reason the gym is free and the pool isn't, is because the pool is owned by Outdoor Recreation. It falls under a different funding support category. The base budget only covers 50 percent of the pool, so the entry fees are necessary to keep the pool opened and maintained, as well as pay the lifeguard salaries.

I saw the DUI-culture shock.

I watched a squadron commander stand before the wing commander and answer for why one of his Airmen had received a driving under the influence charge. It was so emotional for everyone in the room.

It was evident that we are all responsible for each other.

I saw and felt that today. While the actions of one Airman may not seem like a huge deal, it impacts the lives of everyone on base. A commander has to stand up in place of that Airman and answer for their choices. The decision to drive while intoxicated is bigger than the individual who makes it. Seeing that made me hope people will think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking.

Colonel Edwards showed me a new side of the Air Force, today.

I saw everything from a staff meeting with Colonel Taliaferro, to a 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron awards breakfast, to a visit with children at the CDC, to making decisions about shower curtain rods in base lodging.

Colonel Edwards listened to all the concerns spouses asked me to voice. He took notes and started the process on answering questions and resolving issues. I learned that there is a process to every issue. He said he knows that he can't fix everything, but he will look at each issue from every angle and will do his best to get the job done.

Colonel Edwards is a real person. He is exactly who he says he is. It's refreshing to meet a leader that can put himself behind the needs of others, while keeping the big picture in focus. He is intelligent, has integrity and is loyal. In the 15 hours I spent with him, I saw him touch on every one of his 5F Values: freedom, family, faith, fitness and fun.