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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Officials here are preparing for an Air Force team visit in February that could net the base $1 million and bragging rights as best Air Force base.

Misawa is one of three finalists for the 2004 Commander-in-Chief’s Award for Installation Excellence, which recognizes bases that have best used their resources to support the mission.

Other Air Force bases vying for the Department of Defense award are Aviano Air Base in Pordenone, Italy, and Beale Air Force Base, Yuba County, Calif. The Army, Navy and Marines also compete in their respective service category.

“I can’t think of an award that brings more prestige and recognition than something like this,” said Brig. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, Misawa base and 35th Fighter Wing commander.

As a finalist, Misawa is guaranteed an increase of $500,000 in operations and maintenance funds for a quality-of-life improvement. The winner nets $1 million.

Atkins said the base has a long list of projects for which it could use the money, including an indoor recreation center slated for Hangar 973. Plans call for the facility to include hockey, laser tag, go-carts, a boulder climbing wall, kids’ maze, video games and miniature golf.

Each major Air Force command selects a nominee for the award. Misawa was this year’s Pacific Air Force command choice, after submitting a four-page, single space nomination packet this fall.

In early February, a five-member Air Force team comprised of a major general and four wing commanders, will tour the three bases for a day and a half each. Team members will look at everything from family housing and resource conservation to the commissary and health services.

“There’s almost 30 different areas they’re required to go see,” said Maj. Frank Dement, 35th Fighter Wing director of staff. The team will visit work centers and tenant units and interview airmen, he said. “They’re going to be talking to everybody.”

Base officials will prepare storyboards and designate someone to brief the team at each stop, Dent said. The base also must submit a second packet providing more detailed information about Misawa, from mission statement and number of personnel assigned to eight base photographs.

“I’m really excited about this one. This is a big deal,” Dement said.

He and Atkins said the number of improvements at Misawa during the last several years garnered the selection committee’s attention. For instance, they said, the 54-year-old Potter Fitness Center recently was renovated, Grissom Dining Hall is considered one of the best among U.S. Air Force installations in the Pacific and a new Mexican restaurant is to open in early 2004 at the golf course.

Atkins added that the base has received phenomenal support from Gen. William Begert, PACAF commander.

“We’ve been able, over the last couple of years here, to take his investment and his confidence in us and translate that into some visible, positive changes here at Misawa,” he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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