By Darren Heusel
Promoting an “effects-based” service to community and country, a Tinker Air Force Base commander on Thursday captured the hearts and minds of a pro-military crowd of about 150 people with an inspirational keynote address at an annual Yukon veteran’s celebration.
Col. Paul Filcek, 72nd Air Base Wing and installation commander, paid tribute to veterans and a generation of service as the guest speaker for the Yukon Veterans Museum’s seventh annual gala and fundraiser at the Dale Robertson Center.
Filcek, who leads nearly 3,000 Airmen and is responsible for $5.4 billion in resources and a $311 million operating budget, began his Air Force career in 1997 and has served continuously for 36 years.
He said he’s proud to have served his country these many years and told his daughter Kim as she was preparing to embark on her own career that she couldn’t go wrong leading an “effects-based life.”
He recommended three “noble” professions for his daughter: defending the nation, becoming a first responder, or teaching the next generation. “She went on to receive a PhD in molecular microbiology,” he said, proudly.
“Living a life of continuous service will ultimately lead to a lifetime of looking yourself in the mirror and asking what effect have I had on the world and my community,” Filcek said.
“Veterans,” he said, “don’t have that problem.”
Filcek then shifted gears from service to community.
He credited community support to Tinker’s long and proud history, which dates back to 1942 with the original donation of land to build an air materiel depot in eastern Oklahoma County.
“I have been nearly everywhere the Air Force has to offer in my career…and you (community members) simply are the best,” he said.
He praised the support of local, city and state leaders in the base acquiring the former General Motors plant and the 156-acre BNSF rail yard for the future KC-46 sustainment campus as recent examples of the community’s outstanding support of the base.
Filcek went on to say Tinker AFB was created “by a community that loves the installation.”
“You have a tie to the installation and are part of the key to leveraging American airpower,” he said.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Rick Cacini, founder and curator of the Yukon Veterans Museum, said he was pleased with the turnout, particularly during a pandemic.
“I thought the attendance was great,” he said. “I figured COVID would hold us back, but it didn’t.”
Gala organizers took precautions to ensure safety of the guests by seating four to a table and checking temperatures of all attendees upon arrival.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Cacini said. “We had great music, great food, great camaraderie…”
Event-goers also had an opportunity to bid on a variety of baked goods donated by staffers and board members of the museum.
“We’re not going to make a lot of money,” Cacini said. “The main thing is we’ve got the backing of the community. This isn’t my museum. It belongs to the people.”
In addition to the keynote address by Filcek, guests of the gala were treated to a dinner catered by Johnny Carino’s and served by local Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scouts also posted the colors and led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Father Rex Arnold, St. John of Nepomek Catholic Church of Yukon, offered the invocation, while Ron Edmondson provided a salute to fallen comrades and former Yukon Mayor Larry Taylor played “Taps” on his trumpet. Museum board member Jerry Icenhower then offered a toast to the various branches of military service.
Fort Reno Daughters of the American Revolution chapter representatives also presented an honor quilt to former U.S. Marine Capt. Mike Geers, a Vietnam War veteran. They presented another honor quilt posthumously to Hazel Mills, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and recently passed away.
Filcek’s organization enables numerous critical missions at Tinker. The 72nd Air Base Wing provides support for more than 27,000 personnel assigned to the base, the state’s largest single-site employer with an annual payroll of nearly $1.5 billion and an economic impact to the state of nearly $5 billion.
Shortly after assuming command of the 72nd Air Base Wing in June 2019, Filcek met with the local media. He said he told them, “The only people who say they don’t want to live here in Oklahoma are the people who don’t live here in Oklahoma.”
On the eve of the Air Force’s 73rd birthday, Filcek highlighted the service’s history and determination for cutting-edge innovation that has made the Air Force the leader in air, space, and cyberspace.
He said Tinker’s integration of diverse types of military power across multiple warfighting domains is a testament to the Air Force’s ability to adapt and evolve in an era of great power competition.
Tinker is the headquarters of the Air Force Sustainment Center, which provides support to over 40,000 personnel serving in 26 geographic locations including 18 states, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom.
The Center is comprised of three air logistics complexes, three air base wings and two supply chain wings, maintaining $27.2 billion in assets, $17.6 billion in expenditures and an economic impact of $11.4 billion to its local communities.
Tinker’s largest organization is the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, with more than 10,000 employees producing $9.3 billion in revenue per year.
“The sheer volume, complexity and war-fighting capability of the Air Force Sustainment Center is amazing,” Filcek said. “We are the home of sustainment for the Air Force.”
Filcek highlighted Tinker’s three flying wings – Air Combat Command’s 552nd Air Control Wing, the Navy’s Strategic Communications Wing ONE and the Air Force Reserve’s
507th Air Refueling Wing – as well as some of the 45 other major associate units on the base including the Defense Information Systems Agency, Air Force Flight Standards Agency and 38th Cyberspace Engineering Installation Group as a “leverage point of American airpower.”
“I wanted to talk about Tinker and what you mean to us, because it truly is a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “Thank you for your continued support and contributions through the years.”
Filcek then joined Cacini in recognizing Word War II veteran and former prisoner of war Leonard Curtis, 98, the evening’s guest of honor.
Curtis was a machine gun squad leader with the 45th Infantry Division’s 180th Infantry. The U.S. Army sergeant fought for the famed Thunderbirds in Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. He joined the Army in 1940 at age 18 and spent six months as a POW before returning home in 1945.
Curtis said it’s only by the grace of God he was able to survive and thrive to this day.
“I’ve been real fortunate,” Curtis said. “When you have God behind you, you can survive anything.”
After the war, Curtis said he returned home and went back to high school. He said it was tough at times. Like many veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, he said there were times when he’d have to get up and walk out of the classroom.
“I’d hear a loud noise and it would remind me of the fighting,” he said. “But I never thought about leaving, or giving up.”
Filcek said when he’s done serving, he hopes Curtis and his generation can look back on him and his generation and say “job well done.”
“I want to feel that way 40 years from now,” he said.
Filcek referred to the Yukon Veterans Museum as a place where locals can leverage effects based memories for generations to come.
“It’s important for us to preserve those memories,” he said. “Like those who have gone before us, my hope is that the contributions of veterans today will resonate with the next generation.”
While Yukon’s Veteran Museum doesn’t have any fancy tanks, planes or missiles on display, Filcek said it has something much more valuable.
“The Yukon Veterans Museum tells stories…the best human stories,” he said. “Those memories are kept alive in the museum.”
Filcek concluded his address with a famous quote former from President Ronald Reagan, saying “Freedom is never more than one generation away from becoming extinct.”
The gala serves as the major fundraiser for the Yukon Veterans Museum, located in the old American Legion building on West Main. The museum features an abundance of military clothing and equipment, artifacts, historic photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, weapons and more.
The museum is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Tours are also available outside those hours by appointment only.