Former 35th Wing commander revisits his dream ‘Den’
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — When former 35th Fighter Wing commander Brig. Gen. Dana T. Atkins left Misawa in April 2004, the Weasel’s Den was an old, empty hangar with a few floor etchings mapping where mini-golf, the rock climbing wall and other activity areas might go.
Though Atkins envisioned something grand for the World War II-era building, he said it was hard to imagine exactly how the hangar would morph into a giant indoor recreation center where families and single airmen, especially, could shake off cabin fever during Misawa’s long winters.
Now vice commander of 7th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Korea, Atkins on Friday walked through the Weasel’s Den during his first visit back to Misawa.
“It’s pretty exciting to see it all come to fruition,” he said.
Atkins was in town for Saturday night’s Air Force Ball at the Tohoku Enlisted Club. He was asked to be the guest speaker, an invitation he said he readily accepted.
So many things that a wing commander is involved in, “whether it’s planning, whether it’s trying to advocate for the resources, they never mature until two, three … maybe even five years after you’ve left,” Atkins said. “So it’s always neat to come back and see how things have developed.”
Outdoor Recreation Director Dave Hymer, joined by several Misawa senior military leaders including Col. Mike Bartley, 35th Fighter Wing vice commander, led Atkins on a tour of the facility in which the base has invested about $1.7 million to date. They watched a climber scale the indoor rock wall, checked out the retail center and the birthday party room and took a turn on the Go Karts, the den’s most popular activity, according to Hymer, who also briefed Atkins on the center’s usage since its March 19 grand opening. Those numbers include 12,000 Go Kart rides, more than 3,000 miniature golf games, more than 1,500 climbers, and — since May — about 100 birthday party room rentals.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Hymer said.
Though Atkins glimpsed the Weasel’s Den on a sunny, warm afternoon — not the sort of the climate that typically draws people indoors — the general said he was pleased with what he saw.
“I wish I would have walked in here and it was just packed full of people, but then I know it’s not the time of the year,” he said.
“This was going to be that winter venue for the Misawa community, particularly for families with smaller kids that didn’t have anything to do. The winters are long, you need to release energy, and you need to do that in a safe and healthy environment. This certainly satisfies all of that.”
Outdoor Recreation Director Dave Hymer, right, brings Brig. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, 7th Air Force’s vice commander in South Korea and former 35th Fighter Wing commander, up to date on the Weasel’s Den, Misawa’s indoor recreation facility. Atkins, invited back to Misawa as the guest speaker at the Air Force Ball, took time to tour the Weasel’s Den for the first time since it opened in March.