Andrew Fitchett, Reporter
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Fenced away behind the boundaries of a military base, the men and women of RAF Lakenheath can sometimes seem to be worlds away from the surrounding community.
For Edward Kerr, the 56th Rescue Squadron’s honorary commander, the role took on extra significance after the tragic helicopter crash at Cley.
Four airmen - Captains Sean Ruane and Christopher Stover, Tech Sergeant Dale Mathews and Staff Sergeant Afton Ponce - were killed in the crash on January 7.
Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, told yesterday’s ceremony that the community reaction to the crash had shown him why the work of the honorary commanders was so essential.
“There are often times we need help from the local community and that was one of them.
“The support we had was fantastic and we appreciate the help that was given to us,” he said.
But bringing them out of their shells and in touch with the their neighbours are the honorary commanders - community figures charged with fostering the ‘Special Relationship’ by increasing military involvement with civic organisations and endeavours.
Yesterday, the base welcomed 18 of the commanders, old and new, to a special ceremony to take their vows for the coming year.
Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, was on hand to welcome two new faces to the roster of 31 commanders, which includes figures such as Lord Iveagh, owner of the Elveden Estate.
Sabres were raised in a guard of honour for each honorary commander, who were then passed the banner for their command.
The 48th Fighter Wing, or Liberty Wing, has called RAF Lakenheath its home since 1960, following the wing’s reactivation in 1952 in Chaumont, France.
Owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the base was first used as an airfield in the First World War and was developed during the Second World War to accommodate hard runways.
The surrounding English counties now play host to more than 4,500 US airmen who make up the four groups and 16 wing staff agencies of the Liberty Wing.
Their aircraft have become familiar sights in East Anglian skies, with the F-15 C, D and E fighter jets and HH-60G helicopters flying out of the base.
A recent report by the RAND corporation revealed that the base pumps £365m into the local economy.
However, the report also threw the base’s future into doubt by recommending it for closure due to US military budget constraints.
Among those to return was Richard Ashton, former director of Imperial War Museum Duxford, who is now in his eighth year in the role, now for the 48th Fighter Wing’s Operations Group.
“It’s trying to make sure that the people who are based at Lakenheath get to see and understand what life in the east is actually like.
“That means getting them out, not just to the big towns and cities, but getting them out in the wider community and the countryside.
“I’ve been to six weddings with guys from the base in my time here and you get to see a whole new perspective on life,” he said.
Edward Kerr, from The Manor House at Fornham All Saints, was one of the new recruits to be welcomed to the 48th Fighter Wing family.
He said his post with the 56th Rescue Squadron had taken on extra significance since the events at Cley in January, where four airmen lost their lives in a helicopter crash.
“I’m the landlord of a pilot with the 56th and we had very strong ties with them anyway, having run events for them in the past.
“I knew very little about their work initially, and had no idea they were American airmen rescuing British troops a lot of the time.
“The tragedy in January ended up bringing us closer to the squadron and this is a great honour for me,” he said.
What do you think about the base’s ties with the community? Let us know by emailing reporter Andrew Fitchett on email@example.com