US ambassador highlights links between airbase and community

An F-15 taking off from RAF Lakenheath. Picture: USAF

An F-15 taking off from RAF Lakenheath. Picture: USAF - Credit: Archant

The outgoing US ambassador urged people to focus on today's 'inspiring' links between airbases such as RAF Lakenheath and their communities as he highlighted their important role in the UK's relationship with his country.

Matthew Barzun, who was speaking to journalists just over five weeks before he returns to the US following the election of Donald Trump, highlighted the community bonds between US men and women in uniform and the communities they live in.

He said he had formed 'beyond London' teams during his time in the country, and spoke of the importance of leaving the capital and visiting other regions and 'listening and learning'.

The former businessman, who was appointed by outgoing president Barack Obama, said he could not anticipate or predict what would happen in the future at the base and was not in a position to speak for the president-elect.

It was announced last year that RAF Mildenhall since last January, when the US Air Force confirmed it would be leaving the site by 2022.

But he recalled the 'inspiring' local response to USAF helicopter crash in Cley, Norfolk, in January 2014, shortly after he was appointed, which saw four US airmen from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk killed.

'My people are from Suffolk back in the day, and you think about what happened all over, but you look at those beautiful maps, those tiny dots in those tiny villages that are like 40 people, then 1,200 American 18-year-olds show up and all these farms turned into airstrips, and that remarkable past, that depending on how old you are grandparents great grandparents went through and the welcome that was shown, and then fast forward to today.

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'When I got here there was that helicopter crash on a training mission, the rescue helicopter crashed and airmen died.'

He said he had read about the community and how they were on the scene and trying to get help, adding: 'The community bonds between our men and women in uniform and the communities they live in are such an inspiring part of our present, which I think is important because sometimes the past of our two countries coming together has been so intense that we sometimes run the risk, I think, of looking backwards and thinking 'wow, wasn't that amazing?'

'It continues today and we have to be really focused on today and the future and not get overly nostalgic about the past because we have hard work to do now,' he added.

Defence links have been 'huge' for the 'special relationship', and the scale of so-called visit nights where US personnel stay in the UK, including military staff – which total 24,000 a year, spoke of the 'depth and breath' of just the government and military relationship.

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