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Longtime SAFB advocate retires

By Claire Kowalick | Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas (Tribune News Services) | Published: January 3, 2016

For nearly a decade, Sheppard Military Affairs Committee President Tom Whaylen has been an advocate for Sheppard Air Force Base.

After a lifetime of service to the Air Force and community, Whaylen is looking forward to some much-deserved down time.

Whaylen will be retiring as committee president, but will still be fulfilling the role part time and training the next person for the position.

Born and raised in north-central Oklahoma, he joined the Air Force after college and served 28½ years with his last assignment at Sheppard.

After retiring from the Air Force, he took a position as the Midwestern State University director of Career and Testing Services and then worked for five years with a Department of Defense contractor before stepping in as the head of the committee.

A committee president serves as the go-between for the base and surrounding community.

Sheppard represents more than 20 percent of the area's economy, more than $1.08 billion annually and is the leading employer in area providing more than 15,000 military and civilian jobs.

Beginning in 2006, Whaylen built the position from the ground up serving as a spokesman for Sheppard to both area residents and the DOD.

"We work with the community to do everything we can to support missions at Sheppard," Whaylen said.

Along with serving as a liaison to the community, committee representatives visit with officials to ensure that Sheppard remains a vital cog in the DOD wheel.

At least once a year, the team goes to Washington, D.C., to visit representatives at Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.

"Because of SMAC team efforts, they are very aware of Sheppard Air Force Base" Whaylen said.

An area where Whaylen remains ever vigilant is awareness of future Base Realignment and Closure programs.

According to a DOD website, beginning in 2005, BRAC was enforced to reorganize base structure to "more efficiently and effectively support our forces, increase operational readiness and facilitate new ways of doing business."

In 2005, a BRAC at Sheppard moved the medical training mission causing a $48 million annual loss to the area.

Federal fiscal year budgets in 2013 and 2015 included BRAC plans, but funding was not in place to carry out these plans.

Still, the threat of a future BRAC looms heavy on the horizon.

A recent Air Force study of bases noted areas of concern that might denote places primed for cutbacks.

The catastrophic drought for four years in North Texas area put a "red dot" on Sheppard due to fears of reduced access to water supply.

After rains in late spring replenished water supplies, Wichita Falls and Sheppard officials met with the Air Force base study team and laid to rest any concerns about the future of the base.

Another accomplishment in Whaylen's term is the progress of the Joint Land Use Study.

City, county and military officials from miles around pulled together to assign and accomplish goals to best support a good relationship between Sheppard and surrounding communities.

This level of cooperation between civilian and military needs is somewhat unique to our area, he said.

Whaylen said in the time since the creation of the study, the city of Wichita Falls has used its success as a template for getting tasks accomplished.

One of the study's goals that is coming to fruition is the need for better security at Sheppard's main gate.

A state grant and matching city funds are going toward the beginning stage of a $30 million security and transportation project at the gate.

The new committee president will have plenty of projects to stay on top of, Whaylen said, as the threat of BRAC remains a possibility.

"There is a good change of another BRAC happening. Using past time lines, it will probably happen in 2019," he said.

Ongoing missions include attracting new missions for Sheppard and more member nations at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Training Program.

This year is a momentous one primed for celebration with the 75th anniversary of the Air Force, 50th anniversary of Germany training at SAFB and 35th anniversary of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Training Program.

Whaylen said he will work part time to help prepare the next president for all these tasks, but is looking forward to some time for himself.

He said he has not had time to prepare any definite retirement plans, but wants to travel the world.

"I worked 28-plus years in the military and then another 10 doing other things. I'm still mobile, I can do things, it's just time for me to do some of those things before I can't," he said.

The position for Sheppard Military Affairs Committee president remains open. Job responsibilities and qualifications can be viewed at http://www.smacntx.org/.

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©2016 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas) Visit the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas) at www.timesrecordnews.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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