Local leaders visit base, learn about the March mission

Members of Leadership Riverside ask Capt. Lee Bouma, an F-16 pilot with the 120th Fighter Wing, questions during a recent tour of March Air Reserve Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452AMW/PA)

Members of Leadership Riverside ask Capt. Lee Bouma, an F-16 pilot with the 120th Fighter Wing, questions during a recent tour of March Air Reserve Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452AMW/PA)

The Leadership Riverside views a Predator from the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing during their recent tour of March Air Reserve Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452AMW/PA)

The Leadership Riverside views a Predator from the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing during their recent tour of March Air Reserve Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452AMW/PA)

Phillip Hartzell (far right), 452nd Explosives Ordnance Disposal Flight, demonstrates the capacities of the HD1 remotech robot as it picks up a simulated weapon for members of Leadership Riverside during a recent tour of March Air Reserve Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452AMW/PA)

Phillip Hartzell (far right), 452nd Explosives Ordnance Disposal Flight, demonstrates the capacities of the HD1 remotech robot as it picks up a simulated weapon for members of Leadership Riverside during a recent tour of March Air Reserve Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452AMW/PA)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- Last week, 23 members of Leadership Riverside arrived on base for a tour of March Field. The program, which is hosted by the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce, takes community leaders and enables them to spend one day a month with various local organizations. 

"Leadership Riverside is an opportunity to interact with other community leaders and get a more in-depth look at issues affecting our community," said Oliver Rocroi, an account supervisor for O'Reilly Public Relations and member of Leadership Riverside. "It provides a first hand look at the interaction between various city departments, as well as the importance of all the different facets that make up any community such as the arts, education, law enforcement, government, etc." 

After arriving bright and early at the Hap Arnold Club, the group was greeted by the 452nd Air Mobility Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. James Melin, and given an overview of the base and its associate units along with a brief history of March Field.

"These tours afford community leaders the opportunity to see the unique capabilities of each of the various units stationed at March, which is unquestionably the most diverse ARB in the nation," said Lt. Col. John Jensen, commander of Det. 1, 120th Fighter Wing.  "More importantly, I believe these visits give the civilian leaders a sense of participation, ownership and belonging to March ARB, whose service members are part of their community." 

Their first stop was with the 452nd Explosives Ordnance Disposal Flight. They were able to see an actual EOD training suit, examples of explosives and a demonstration by the HD1 remotech robot. The HD1 is used for remote reconnaissance and to remotely render safe explosive items. The F6 robot was also on display. 

After boarding the bus, the group went to visit Det. 1, 120th Fighter Wing. This stop allowed the group to get up close and personal with some of the F-16s that are stationed on March from the Montana Air National Guard. As a surprise for the group, the unit participated in an alert launch demonstrating the fighter's rapid response capability. 

"A picture may be worth a thousand words, but observing a real time launch will leave a lasting memory," said Lieutenant Colonel Jensen. "Being able to coordinate the timing of a previously scheduled event with the tour allowed them to see first hand all the hard work that our pilots and maintenance troops put into getting our jets airborne. 

Next, it was off for a trip down the flight line to see the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing. A static display of the MQ-1 Predator was set up for viewing and the Grizzlies Commander, Col. Al Aimar, gave a brief overview of their mission, explaining how pilots from the 163rd were routinely flying in the areas of responsibility, right from their home base at March. 

Leadership Riverside continued down to the south end of the flight line where the next stop was to board one of March's eight C-17s. Within the belly of the Globemaster III, which can carry 160,000 pounds, the group was given briefings by the loadmaster and personnel from the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron about these premier transporter's unique abilities and missions. They also had the opportunity to climb into the cockpit and ask questions of a couple of the pilots. 

For lunch, the tour convened at Gracious Gatherings where they were met with various
commanders and senior noncommissioned officers who were able to speak one on one with the visitors about their jobs and their overall missions. 

"I would like them to have a clear understanding of what goes into protecting the skies
of America," said Lieutenant Colonel Jensen. "Mostly though, I would like them to leave with a sense of pride in their nation, their military and the many young service members who work so hard to ensure our freedoms." 

Also joining the group were several troops from March who had recently returned from overseas deployments to hostile areas. 

"Every opportunity that I've had to spend time on a military base is an opportunity to appreciate all that the men and women of the U.S. armed forces do to protect our country," said Mr. Rocroi. "I'm thankful that programs like Leadership Riverside provide
an opportunity to thank our troops and learn a little more about what they do on a daily
basis to support armed services operations around the world." 

After lunch, the group headed to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service and the Defense Visual Information Center. Located in a state-of- the-art facility, the DVIC is the U.S. military's official records' center for the storage and preservation of visual information. Among the various areas they visited, the tour was able to peer in and see the climate controlled automated storage and retrieval system which holds over 167,000 images covering all aspects of the military. 

The next stop was at the Department of Homeland Security. After another brief overview, they were split into two groups to get a first hand look at how the staff functions and operates their on-going mission. This facility has the daunting mission of monitoring aircraft across the continental United States, looking for possible hostilities or drug trafficking. 

The final stop of the day was a visit to the C-17 simulator facility. Broken into three groups this time, the tour was able to not only watch, but also participate in pilot training by getting in the cockpit of the $15 million simulator. This is the same essential training the 729th Airlift Squadron pilots get before flying the actual Globemaster IIIs. 

"Favorites are hard, but if I had to choose one, then the C-17 simulator would be it," said Mr. Rocroi. "It was certainly something you don't normally get to do as a civilian." 

At the end of a long day, the tour headed back to the Hap Arnold Club to wrap things up and discuss their experiences. March ARB hosts Leadership Riverside once a year. In addition, they also did the same for Leadership Moreno Valley, who toured the base yesterday. 

"For anyone with even a remote interest in history, (the tour was) an opportunity to live out a part of it and to hear the stories of the men and women that make history on a daily basis," said Mr. Rocroi. "There are too many misconceptions about the military, particularly in the media, that are driven by general ignorance. Spending time with soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors put a human perspective on the war we fight today and the wars we fought in the past." 

"Overall, I think every civilian should take the opportunity to visit a military establishment when given the chance."