What it’s like to be an Honorary Commander of the Air Force

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by: Kelly Fliller

Did you know that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) is the largest employer in southern New Jersey and the second largest employer in the State of New Jersey? JBMDL has a nearly $7 BILLION impact on the region’s economy and produces nearly $120 million in local tax revenue. It is the nation’s ONLY tri-service joint base capable of projecting air, land and sea power for the defense of our nation. Service men and women from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S Navy, U.S Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard train, support and sustain installation and global contingency operations.

I’m fortunate enough to have been accepted into the Honorary Commander program so I can learn more about our amazing military. This program was created to connect military commanders and civic leaders, educate the civic leaders on the missions of the JBMDL service men and women and keep communication open between the military and local communities. This is my second year and for as much as I’ve learned, I know it’s only the beginning. The Honorary Commander program is an incredible way for the civilian community to learn everything that goes on “beyond the barrier.”

The commanders at JBMDL make it as real as possible for the Honorary Commanders. There is an official induction ceremony where we meet our squadron Commander and get sworn in by taking the Honorary Commander oath. We also get to experience and graduate from mock boot camp. It’s one day for us to see just a tiny bit of what military members go through. There are marching drills, some team building tasks and yes, there is yelling! Last year, I was even in a simulated Humvee rollover. It sure gives you an incredible perspective of all that our service men and women do for our country.

Once graduated from “boot camp” and paired with my squadron, I had the opportunity to learn about how the aircraft is maintained and even had hands-on lessons on removing and replacing rivets. Don’t worry, it was only on pieces of metal meant for practicing! I was able to see how the Air Force tests equipment and calibrates different tools and machinery. They are precise in their calculations and measurements and perform their functions in a controlled environment where temperature and humidity have to be constantly monitored. I also learned how the Air Force can be ready instantly to deploy personnel around the globe to open airfields in the event of wartime or disaster relief.

In addition to learning about the missions and daily operations at our own Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, I have traveled with the Air Force and the Air Force Reserves to different bases to learn more about the scope of the work being done to serve our nation. Flying on a C-17 was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  If that wasn’t exciting enough, the pilots demonstrated a combat landing, showing us what it’s like to land in situations where they need to get on the ground as quickly as possible due to dangerous combat situations.

On another civic leader trip, I flew on a KC-10 refeuler and watched as a fighter jet was refueled in midair. Talk about once in a lifetime! Our Honorary Commander group was also able to see the Air Force Academy and tour both Petersen and Schriever Air Force Bases in Colorado where we learned about the world’s GPS operations as well as the Air Force Space Command.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to learn about our awesome military and what they do at JBMDL to support our country. I plan on making this a series so I can share with all of you what goes on “behind the barrier.” Stay tuned for more!

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  • Dana Lancellotti

    How absolutely fascinating Kelly! You are an inspiration and a perfect example of why the Air Force invests so much time and effort nurturing the Honorary Commander program to educate prominent Civic Leaders like yourself. I look forward to more of your posts!! Thank you for serving those who serve.

    • kellyf

      Thank you so much, Dana. It has been the most incredible experience and it is a huge honor to be a part of it. Looking forward to learning more in the future and sharing my experiences!

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