MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Misawa will vie against McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, and RAF Lakenheath, England, for the 2005 Commander in Chief’s Installation Excellence Award.

For the second consecutive year, Misawa is in the running to be named best in the Air Force. As a finalist, Misawa is guaranteed $500,000 for quality-of-life improvements; it stands to get an additional $500,000 if it takes top prize.

Last year, Beale Air Force Base in Yuba County, Calif., edged out Misawa and Aviano Air Base in Pordenone, Italy, for the 2004 award.

But base officials here say they believe the odds are in their favor this time.

Maj. Frank Dement, 35th Fighter Wing staff director, noted that Kadena Air Base was an Installation Excellence runner-up in 2001, then won in 2003.

“We’ve been through the process before and hosted the visit,” Dement said.

The IE Air Force evaluation team, due at Misawa from Jan. 31 to Feb. 13, has new members this year, Dement said, “but we know how things go. That should hopefully give us a little bit of a jump start on planning and being able to tell our story. That’s what it’s all about.”

The late President Reagan established the award in 1984 to recognize bases that best use funds for services, facilities and quality-of-life initiatives, and to encourage commanders to adopt innovative ways to manage and operate their installations.

“It’s an ‘above and beyond’ kind of thing,” Dement said. “Improving efficiency and making things happen better, faster and cheaper.”

Evaluators are to visit major tenants, the commissary and main exchange, and various squadrons, units and organizations on base. They’re to talk with law enforcement officers, chaplains, civil engineers, military lawyers, housing officials and other personnel.

“We’ll highlight how we work hand- in-hand with the Navy, Army, Marines” and Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Dement said. Base officials also plan to highlight community relations and cooperation with Misawa city airport, which shares the flightline with the base.

The $500,000 prize Misawa earned as a 2004 finalist was spent adding a climbing wall and skateboard park for the new Weasel’s Den in Hangar 973, 10 new treadmills for the Potter Fitness Center, new flooring and bleachers at Lunney Youth Center, keyless entry for base lodging facilities and equipment to expand base cable television service from 23 channels to 58 channels by early 2005.

Winning at least that much again for quality-of-life initiatives is a big deal, Dement said, especially since “it’s probably another belt-tightening year.

“In this isolated region that we are in, quality of life is so important,” 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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