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A U.S. F-16 and Japanese F-1 stand side-by-side in Friendship Park on Misawa Air Base, Japan. Base officials learned Wednesday that Misawa was named the 2005 Commander in Chief’s Installation Excellence Award winner for the Air Force, an honor that also comes with a $1 million prize for quality-of-life projects.
A U.S. F-16 and Japanese F-1 stand side-by-side in Friendship Park on Misawa Air Base, Japan. Base officials learned Wednesday that Misawa was named the 2005 Commander in Chief’s Installation Excellence Award winner for the Air Force, an honor that also comes with a $1 million prize for quality-of-life projects. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Twice was the charm for this northern Japan base.

Misawa has received the 2005 Commander in Chief’s Installation Excellence Award, making it the top base in the Air Force and the recipient of a $1 million prize for quality-of-life projects.

The base nudged out McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., and RAF Lakenheath, England, for the award.

“It’s the ultimate validation of taking care of your people,” said Col. Mike Bartley, Misawa’s 35th Fighter Wing vice commander. “It’s a huge, huge accomplishment to be named the Air Force Installation Excellence Award winner. There is a buzz about the base — people are pretty excited about it.”

The Pentagon also announced the other Defense Department winners for the Presidential honor: the Army’s Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga.; Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, N.C.; Naval Base Kitsap, Silverdale, Wash.; and Defense Distribution Depot, San Joaquin, Calif.

Misawa was a finalist last year for installation excellence, which for the Air Force eventually went to Beale Air Force Base in Yuba County, Calif.

This year’s five winners were selected for their exemplary support of Defense Department missions, according to a Pentagon news release Tuesday.

“Each winning installation succeeded in providing excellent working, housing and recreational conditions for the people assigned to that installation,” the statement read.

Staff Sgt. Tisha Irby, 29, of the 35th Medical Group, said the honor is “very well deserved. I’ve never been stationed at a base before that’s won.”

Irby believes the clincher for Misawa was the partnership between the U.S. military and local Japanese and Japan Air Self- Defense Force. “We’re working side-by- side,” she said.

Tech. Sgt. Stefan Kelly, 37, a budget planner for the base hospital, called Misawa “a pretty close-knit community. It’s very clean. I think everyone takes pride in the base.”

Bartley said installation excellence was a team effort, crediting wing commander Brig. Gen. Bill Rew and former vice wing commander Col. Don Weckhorst for steering the award-winning package submission. But Misawa airmen, the Navy at Misawa, the Army, the few Marines assigned here, JASDF’s 3rd Air Wing, and Misawa city and Aomori prefecture officials all had a hand in the award “based on their contribution to the mission and to the people on this base,” Bartley said.

Naval Air Facility Misawa commander, Capt. Wayne Radloff also said installation excellence was about teamwork.

“It’s about stewardship, it’s about quality of service and taking care of people,” he said. “We’re all going to benefit by the reward.”

Indeed, base leaders already are preparing a list of ideas on how to spend the $1 million, which Bartley said must be used during this current fiscal year on quality-of-life initiatives. Officials began collecting feedback from community members and group commanders and chiefs for quality-of-life projects earlier this year since Misawa, as one of three Air Force finalists for installation excellence, was already guaranteed $500,000, Bartley said.

The “wish list” includes a dog park, coffee bar for Weasel’s Den, a rope tow for the base ski hill, fitness machines, base beach equipment, playground equipment upgrades, a keyless entry system for lodging, and additional base cable TV channels.

No decisions have been made, Bartley stressed, but programs, services or infrastructure that benefit the entire community will receive higher priority.

Senior Airman Maurice Owens, 27, hopes the base continues to sink money into the Single Airmen Extreme Program and other services for unaccompanied personnel.

“Anything that will help people get off the base … and enjoy Japan,” he said.

Misawa will send a team to Washington, D.C., for the Aug. 17 installation excellence awards ceremony.

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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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