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Hurlburt inducts 2017-2018 Honorary Commanders

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelby Durnin and Tech. Sgt. Jose Rodriguez, Special Operations Forces Medical Element members with the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron, demonstrate life-saving emergency field medical tactics at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Sept. 28, 2017. Several members of the 1st SOSS performed the demonstration after the 2017 Honorary Commander change of command ceremony, exhibiting some of Team Hurlburt’s unique capabilities to local civic leaders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo)

Story by Amy Nicholson

1st Special Operations Wing/Public Affairs

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. – Hurlburt Field welcomed its newest honorary commanders Sept. 28 with an introduction to the base’s various missions and a Special Operations Forces Medical Element demonstration.

The Team Hurlburt Honorary Commanders Program, which began in 2004, is a year-long program designed to build and maintain solid, mutually-beneficial relationships between the local communities and Hurlburt Field. The program includes tours through each of the four groups in the 1st Special Operations Wing throughout the year, as well as tours of the 24th SOW, 492nd SOW and the 505th Command and Control Wing.

“I coordinate public health emergencies in Okaloosa County and I feel a key area for improvement in my role includes learning and understanding more about Hurlburt Field,” said Katie McDeavitt, Public Health Preparedness Section Chief, Okaloosa County Health Department, and incoming 1st Special Operations Medical Group honorary commander. “Very often our missions cross paths and I feel confident that this program will provide me the contacts, knowledge and education to ease transition of the public health response between Okaloosa County and Hurlburt Field.”

In addition to the tours, the honorary commanders will be invited to base events such as awards ceremonies and changes of command, and will be immersed into their assigned unit as much as possible, giving them hands-on experience in the program.

“Over the next year, our honorary commanders will learn what special operations and command and control are all about, but more importantly, they’ll meet the Hurlburt Airmen who make it happen,” said Col Steve Breeze, vice commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing. “The magic is when they apply this knowledge to promote continued awareness and encouragement within the community. Community support is a critical element of our Airmen’s support structure. When our Air Commandos are deployed, knowing that their families back home are being taken care of eases their mind and helps them focus on the mission.”

As the program has become more well-known in the community, nominees from across the Florida Panhandle spill in each year, making the selection process challenging.

Entering its 14th year, the program has produced 114 Hurlburt Field ambassadors in the community to date.

As honorary commanders transition out of the program each year, they enter an alumni status. Among other interactions, Hurlburt leaders provide the Hurlburt Field Alumni with regular Hurlburt Field updates to keep them tied in with the mission and the people.

“This program is about building relationships,” said Breeze. “‘Honorary commander’ isn’t just a title; these community leaders become a part of the extended Air Force family.”

“It was an honor to be selected to serve as an Honorary Commander for Hurlburt Field,” said Pam Ridlehoover, Fort Walton Beach Area Campus Director of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and outgoing 505th Training Group honorary commander. “As an outgoing Honorary Commander I have learned so much from the men and women of the Air Force at Hurlburt. It is amazing to watch the Hurlburt team show us around the base. The pride they take in completing their mission is outstanding! I am honored to have spent time with each of them learning their role as medical, the maintenance group, 505th (Training Group) and so many others. As a community we need to support the Hurlburt Team and their spouses any way we can. Thank you for your service, I’m proud and honored to have stood by you this year as honorary commander.”

The 2017-2018 Team Hurlburt Honorary Commanders are:
• Dr. Devin Stephenson, President, Northwest Florida State College(1st Special Operations Wing)
• Capt Shannon Tait, Central District Patrol Commander, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (1st Special Operations Mission Support Group)
• Jason Autrey, Public Works Director, Okaloosa County(1st Special Operations Maintenance Group)
• Katie McDeavitt, Public Health Preparedness Section Chief, Okaloosa County Health Department (1st Special Operations Medical Group)
• Diane Winnemuller, Publisher, NWF Daily News, Destin Log, Santa Rosa Gazette, Crestview News Bulletin and Walton Sun, as well as five news and two destination websites (1st Special Operations Group)
• Sandra Gainey, History/Social Studies/Civics Teacher, Pryor Middle School (1st Special Operations Wing Command Chief)
• Mia Hughes, Administrative Director, Fisher House of the Emerald Coast (505th Command and Control Wing)
• Teresa Halverson, Director of Marketing/Admissions, Manor at Bluewater Bay (505th Training Group)
• Lisa Captain, Director of Promotions and Marketing, Culumus Media (24th Special Operations Wing)
• Lori Bentley, Director of Sales and Marketing, Four Points by Sheraton (492nd Special Operations Wing)
• Jason Lamp, General Sales Manager, Community Broadcasters (492nd Special Operations Wing Command Chief)

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