SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – After years of planning and months of construction, a true cooperative partnership to reimagine the front door to the home of the Air Force’s combat capability was commemorated April 2, 2021, during a ceremony here.
The nearly $9 million Main Gate project was the result of local, state and federal dollars working together to provide a remarkable first impression to the Air Force’s largest and most diverse technical and pilot training installation. Representatives from the three levels of government as well as base and civic leaders were on hand to recognize and celebrate the unique and monumental effort.
The multi-year project was more than just creating dazzling curb appeal, though. The venture was the culmination of two projects: the first to remove a public eyesore and security threat to the installation in the way of a motel and hotel adjacent to the installation, and the second to rebuild the Main Gate entrance. Both enhanced installation security and force protection.
Brig. Gen. Kenyon Bell, 82nd Training Wing and installation commander, said that while the project started under different Sheppard leadership years ago, he is proud to be the “clean-up guy” to see the beautification and force protection undertaking come to fruition.
“When you talk about that security risk – and my wife, Lori, will attest – I normally don’t have any problems falling asleep at night. I put my head on my pillow and I’m out,” he said. “But when you think about what used to be over here (off base) and what we have behind this fence line and what we train, that will make someone lose some sleep at night. So, I’m especially thankful for the security upgrades you’ve given us.”
The security threat posed by off-base establishments was corrected in 2016 when the city of Wichita Falls received a $1.75 million Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant from the state of Texas. The city added another $1.25 million toward the project, and the Federal Transit Authority posted another $500,000. The funding was used to remove the structures that previously occupied the space and build the transportation hub that exists today.
In 2018, the Wichita Falls Economic Development Corp. matched $1.5 million in DEAAG funding to augment Air Force minor military construction project funds in the amount of $5.7 million for the new entryway. Construction on the new Main Gate began in March 2019 and, for the most part, wrapped up in November 2020.
Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana said it took leadership and vision to see the project through, from beginning to end. He applauded the efforts of the city staff – including City Manager Darron Leiker and Karen Montgomery-Gagne, planning administrator – as well as and the energy of base staff to work through the red tape and moving targets to complete a project that benefits the city and installation.
“As I look across this crowd, it shows me the pride we have in our military community. I can tell you right now, this project makes me proud to be the mayor of a military community,” he said. “I am blessed. I’m not blessed to be the mayor of Wichita Falls. I’m blessed to be the mayor of Wichita Falls and also have Sheppard Air Force Base sitting right here, and I’m thankful for this project because, once again, combat capability starts here.”
Texas 13th Congressional District Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Amarillo), newly elected in November 2020 and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was honored to be part of the commemoration event. He said he often realizes that the type and level of cooperation seen during this project was unusual.
But, he said, it was important to achieve the safety and state-of-the-art security the new entrance provides because of the global responsibility the installation has in training Airmen for the United States and for mission partners abroad.
“People don’t realize it, but the city of Wichita Falls is a pretty international little city,” he said. “You don’t realize that until you hear about all the students who come through here to live and work here on a day-to-day basis. So I think it’s important that this is the first impression that a lot of people … have of the United States of America.”
Col. Joshua DeMotts, 82nd Mission Support Group commander and civil engineer by trade, said he has been part of numerous projects throughout his career, but this one has been the most unique because of its complexities.
“It’s been my privilege to be here for the construction portion of the project, but frankly most of the hardest work was done before I ever arrived,” he said. “Combining federal, state and local government funding to successfully execute an $8.7 million project on a military installation is about as close to miraculous as you are ever likely to see, and it could never have happened without close partnerships among a lot of different people and organizations.”
Highlights of the new entryway include:
• A Heritage Circle, which features the Maintenance Man statue to recognize the large aircraft maintenance training mission of Sheppard, and a T-38 Talon to represent the flying training mission of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program;
• A serpentine roadway to control traffic flow;
• A state-of-the-art entry control station for security forces Airmen, hardened utilities;
• and other force protection and anti-terrorism measures.