Columbus Air Force Base Wing Commander Col. Samantha Weeks talks with state Sen. Chuck Younger after Thursday's Base Community Council Luncheon. Weeks, who took command at CAFB in August, updated a crowd of more than 100 on the base's achievements and plans. Photo by: Slim Smith/Dispatch Staff
October 12, 2018 9:51:01 AM
JoAnn Ferguson has seen at least 14 commanders at Columbus Air Force Base since joining the Base Community Council's Military Affairs Committee.
"I've seen so many changes, so many commanders come and go," said Ferguson, as she sat among the 100 or so who attended the Base Community Council's fall luncheon Thursday on the base. "The (wing) commander the first year I was on the committee was Jim Higham and, of course, down through the years there have been so many."
As a businesswoman -- Ferguson owned General Nutrition franchises in Columbus and Starkville before retiring in 2014 -- can appreciate the somewhat unique qualities of the wing commander who spoke at the event Thursday.
Col. Samantha Weeks took command of the 14th Flying Training Wing Squadron in August, just the second woman to serve in that capacity.
During her address Thursday, Weeks shared her story of what once would have been considered an improbable rise through the Air Force, recounting when she first realized she wanted to be a fighter pilot.
She was 6 at the time when she and one of her sisters accompanied their dad, a master sergeant in the Air Force, on a mission to refuel fighter jets over the Atlantic.
"I remember going up to my dad and telling him, 'That's what I want to be when I grow up.' He said, 'Girls can't do that.' At the time he was right," Weeks said.
But the times changed.
By the time Weeks finished high school, those gender barriers had fallen.
"So much of success in life depends on good luck and good timing," Weeks said. "I had both."
Weeks graduated from the Air Force Academy and trained as a pilot in Nevada, emerging as a fighter pilot and fulfilling that 6-year-old's dream.
Today, in her role as wing commander, her mission is to help others fulfill a similar dream, but Weeks said the mission goes beyond that.
Only about 20 percent of the 2,200 airmen at Columbus Air Force Base are flight instructors or student pilots. Weeks' goal, she said, is to make sure all base personnel understand their roles in the overall mission and the critical role they play.
The formula for that is simple: Cultivate Airmen. Create Pilots. Connect.
"When you ask people what it is we do here, the answer is we train pilots," Weeks said. "That's true, of course, but there is far more to it than that.
"In one year's time, these pilots will earn their wings and go off to some combat aircraft and they'll be doing the nation's business very soon," she added. "That takes every airman to get that job done. We all need to understand what mission support does, how we rely on one another to get that accomplished."
That goes beyond the confines of CAFB and into the broader community.
"That's part of the connection we emphasize," Weeks said. "Columbus Air Force Base doesn't exist on an island. We not only need to ensure our airmen connect with each other, but also connect our families and our community."
Each year, CAFB contributes about $250 million in economic impact to the greater Columbus community, but the base's importance is not always measured in dollars, Weeks noted.
"When these airmen leave for their next assignments, they take Columbus with them," she said. "The relationship between the airmen and the community is a connection that runs very deep."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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