Oklahoma Town Takes 'America Supports You' a Step Further
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ENID, Okla., April 1, 2005 The prairie town that sprung from a land grab on Sept. 16, 1893, has evolved into Enid, Okla., a city that's proudly proclaiming "Enid Supports You" to U.S. military servicemembers.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Johnny Wellman with the 71st Security Forces Squadron brought his 15-month-old son, Hunter, to the Enid, Okla., America Supports You kick-off rally on March 31. Wellman is originally from Enid, and he has been stationed at Vance Air Force Base in the town since July 2000. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The city showed the nation how a town supports its troops by joining the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program March 31, the first community to form a partnership with the program.
On March 15, Enid Mayor Ernie Currier and the city commission issued a proclamation making March 31 "Enid America Supports You Day." The chamber of commerce and the Enid school board joined the city, issuing their own proclamations and declarations.
"We hope that by being the front-runner that we can actually show, first of all, that it's possible for a community to do it," Currier said. "We want to show that, hey, the whole community can do it. We don't just have one company here that wants to do this. Our whole stinkin' town wants to get on board!"
The initiative was born of a meeting between a local businessman and Defense Department officials at the Pentagon in February. There, Greg Allen heard about America Supports You from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As the home of Vance Air Force Base since November 1941, supporting the troops comes naturally to the town of about 47,000 people, the mayor said.
"We just have a lot of good connections to (Vance)," Currier said. "So it's a natural fit for us."
With the activation of what was then referred to as the Air Corps Basic Flying School of Enid, Okla., the community became a military town. Through name changes, closings and reactivations, the town has supported its troops. And it aims to keep supporting them in an even more substantial way.
"Our goal is to have 20,000 messages sent to the troops, and that represents about one per household here in Enid," Jon Blankenship, president of the Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce. "On top of that, we want to provide financial support for phone cards. We understand that there's a need certainly for our troops stationed overseas right now."
The messages will be sent to the troops through the America Supports You Web site. Currier said that using the 20,000 figure, "we're able to say that if we get 20,000 people, that basically represents that we've gotten 100 percent of the households in Enid on board with this.".
The initiative that began March 31 with the rally is scheduled to culminate July 4, when the city will exchange city flags signed by residents for flags from the two units the city has adopted: the Air Force's 71st Security Forces Squadron from Vance and the Army's 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, from Fort Lewis, Wash. The Army unit is currently in Mosul, Iraq.
Enid will prepare welcome home packages for the troops. "We will be collecting gifts in the form of national chain gift certificates, DVDs, books, CDs, disposable cameras, video games, thank-you cards and other welcome home items to be packaged and delivered to our troops upon their redeployment home," Currier said. "That way, they will know that we in Enid, Okla., appreciate what they did for all of us."
Col. Bryan Benson, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing from Vance, said Enid has been supporting the troops for more some time. Appreciation dinners targeting enlisted troops have been ongoing for more than 30 years. They're set up as casino nights, with play money. With their winnings from playing casino games, servicemembers can bid on prizes, such as a big screen television.
The city also has been sending care packages to troops overseas, he said.
Advance Food Company, the largest private employer in the city, according to chamber of commerce statistics, is in the planning stages to include an America Supports You logo on its packaging and trucks, said company vice president Brian Hayden. The plans should be finalized within the next two weeks, and would be implemented right away, he said.
Paul Allen, Greg's father and an Advance Food founder, said he feels that America Supports You and initiatives like the one Enid is undertaking are important to unify the country.
"I think the country needs to show a united front," Paul said. "The nation needs to show our resolve."
Hayden said he hopes Enid's initiative would take root and grow across the country. "I hope they do one up on us," he said.
That mission got off to a good start in Enid, and the rally crowd was appreciative.
"I love (that the city had the rally)," Air Force Staff Sgt. Johnny Wellman said. "It shows that Enid takes pride in the service. It's nice, Enid stepping up and doing that."
Wellman, with the 71st Security Forces Squadron, is originally from Enid and has been stationed at Vance since July 2000. He was there with his 15-month-old son, Hunter.
Air Force Master Sgt. Jay Hoth with the 71st Medical Group agrees with Wellman. "For Enid to step up," he said, "it says a lot for them.