May 18, 2010 12:01:00 PM
Some would argue (and we are among them) that Columbus Air Force Base''s impact on the area gets too little notice or appreciation. But, that was not the case this weekend.
The Wings Over Columbus air show drew an estimated 40,000 to the base over two days for a hefty dose of America''s airborne military might, both present and past. Displays on the ground of planes and helicopters ("helios" in Air Force-ese), and the awe-inspiring, deafening displays of aircraft overhead, would cause even the most cynical American''s heart to skip a few patriotic beats.
How could one not be impressed by the elegant precision of the Thunderbirds, the flying demonstration team that represents the "best of the best" of the Air Force or the state-of-the-art aviation technology on display.
The base is also well known for its Fourth of July celebrations, complete with fireworks, that have been relocated to the Lock and Dam the past several years.
Less apparent is the impact the base has on our lives the other 362 days of the year.
Even so, it powers the local economy like the engines on a Boeing C-17 Globemaster.
According to base officials, CAFB employs 1,400 military personnel and 1,700 civilians -- a number that dwarfs any local industry, and several of our largest ones (equivalent to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, city and county school districts, and Weyerhaeuser combined).
The base had an economic impact of $321 million in 2008, the latest figures available, a number that was trending upward over previous years. The base''s annual payroll was $109 million in 2008. And let''s not forget that as a pilot-training base, CAFB has a disproportionate number of officers, compared to other bases -- lots of young lieutenants with good pay, spending it in our local shops and restaurants.
And then there is the base wives organization, which gives a needed and welcome boost to local charities and volunteers in a big way during Columbus'' Spring Pilgrimage.
We admit we don''t acknowledge the base enough for its contributions to our community. Like most others, sometimes it takes the roar of a few F-16s overhead to jar our attention.
We extend our gratitude to the 14th Flying Training Wing commander, Col. Roger Watkins, his wife, Leslie and the impressive CAFB personnel for being gracious hosts, for their contributions to our community and for a great air show that we would love to see as an annual event.