Community tells of special relationship with RAF Mildenhall and make their case to keep it open after 2023 closure date
PUBLISHED: 12:00 11 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:37 11 August 2017
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It is a major part of the community, which not only boosts the area's economy but has international significance in underscoring the importance of the British-US "special relationship".
But as RAF Mildenhall nears its earmarked closure date of 2023, those close to the base - including a former military leader who stood down as its commander this year - are urging for it to stay open.
Ken Thompson, the chairman of the British-American committee which helps to foster the Anglo-American relationship, said the site had become “more a part of the community in the last few years”.
Figures released in 2014 said it pumped £220m into the region every year, in addition to £365m from nearby RAF Lakeneath.
Mr Thompson - who recently organised a behind-the-scenes tour of the base for community members where they visited Air Traffic Control, went on board a KC-135 Stratotanker and got to see special operation’s V-22 Osprey - said: “Not having the bases here would have a big impact on Mildenhall and Lakenheath.
“I am a big campaigner to keep it open. It is a part of the community. When it goes quiet you think: ‘Where are the planes today?’ I think it will be a big mistake to close it.”
His thoughts are echoed by Colonel Thomas Torkelson who, up until recently, was commander of the base.
He said: “None of us want to see the base close. From a military point of view operationally, Mildenhall adds a lot of value and as a military advisor I would want Mildenhall to stay open.”
For Col Torkelson, his desire for the base to remain open also stems from his love of the area.
He said he was “kind of in denial” about the end of his second term as base commander, with Col Christopher Amrhein taking over.
“I would love to stay indefinitely,” he said. “I would love to say a third year for sure. It will be very difficult for us to leave.
“I do a newcomer’s brief every Tuesday and one of the first questions I ask is: ‘How many of y’all want to be in England?’ And it is, if not unanimous, 99pc every single time people raise their hand.
“It is a place where people want to serve and so that helps with their excitement and desire to know the locals and see the surrounding community.”
He added that he exposes the personnel to the base’s history, encourages them to get to know their neighbours and enjoy their time here.
Pilot Brian Klazura only arrived in Suffolk in May.
He flies the KC-135R Stratotanker and was on hand to show the tour group around the plane, which helps to refuel fighter jets from across the European theatre.
He said he was impressed with the community’s military knowledge.
“A lot of people know about the 135, it is an old aircraft,” he said. “I love that the British know so much about the 135. It is very cool that you guys know so much about the aircraft and Mildenhall.
“I love living in a new community. The British people are great and have been really supportive.”
It was during the 1950s when RAF Mildenhall became a permanent home for the USAF.
The 100th Air Refueling Wing this year celebrated its 25th anniversary.
The wing has a rich heritage. It is the only one in the USAF to carry Second World War markings on its aircraft - the white D in a black square - due to its origins in the 100th Bombardment Group, which was based at Thorpe Abbotts.
Dianne Howell, who lives in Mildenhall with her husband David, was invited on the tour.
She said: “We have American friends and they do a lot for the community and I will be sad to see them go if they do. I will miss them.
“Some people moan about the planes but if we go away anywhere we think: ‘Oh we miss the planes.’”
Do you have any memories or pictures of RAF Mildenhall you would like to share with us? Email reporter Rebecca Murphy on firstname.lastname@example.org