Define your "Dover Experience"
By Col. Joel Safranek, 436th Airlift Wing commander
/ Published May 08, 2019
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
When Airmen get their assignments to Dover, many may have to Google “Dover” just to find out where it is on the map. In addition to learning where Dover is located, many also learn about the “Dover Experience.” When I first heard the term, I did not really understand it; but now that I have lived it, the “Dover Experience” has become more meaningful to me. I see the “Dover Experience” as a combination of the countless unique opportunities Dover Air Force Base and our Dover community bring to those who live and work here. The various events our Dover Airmen attended this past weekend showcase this.
Before leaving for the weekend, I enjoyed a fantastic First Friday at the Landings with Team Dover Airmen. This was no ordinary First Friday as we had a few extra visitors. NASCAR race cars were on display, and all attendees enjoyed a free event with country singers John Rich and Cowboy Troy. As I watched Master Sgt. Jesus Revilla and Master Sgt. Scott Priputen accompany John Rich on guitar and drums, respectively, in the background, I knew this would be a special experience they would never forget.
Then, on Saturday, I donned my colonial garb, and as Caesar Rodney, I joined my fellow Airmen as they participated in and enjoyed the Dover Days Parade. My wife and I had the opportunity to serve as reviewing officials, and it was a blast! In the reviewing stand, I had the honor of accompanying Delaware Gov. John Carney and Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen. Throughout the day, I was able to see firsthand how the Dover Mayor’s phrase of “Dover is Dover Air Force Base, and Dover Air Force Base is Dover” is absolutely true. As I watched the parade, I could not help but notice the level of involvement from our Dover AFB Airmen and their families. I saw our very own Dover AFB Honor Guard marching. I saw our Airmen and their families in the parade, integrated into the community organizations on display or enjoying the event as spectators in the crowd. What an incredible display of the long-standing partnership we share with our community!
Later in the day, my wife and I had another incredible experience at the Air Mobility Command Museum during a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The museum staff and volunteers had knocked this one out of the park. As a result of their efforts, we had a unique flyover and static display of the C-47 affectionately known as TAB, “That’s All, Brother,” which served as the lead in its D-Day airdrop formation. In addition to seeing this historic aircraft in motion, we were able to interact with dozens of WWII reenactors. Even more special, we had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet George Shenkle and Joseph Morettini: two former paratroopers who had jumped from the AMC Museum’s C-47 (“Turf and Sport Special”) on D-Day. To add to the excitement, AMC Museum and Commemorative Air Force arranged for them to fly as passengers in TAB during the flyover. It was the first time they had been on the aircraft since D-Day - what a memorable experience for all!
Anyone who has spent any time in Dover knows NASCAR is a large part of this town, and that was apparent this past weekend as Dover International Speedway celebrated its 50th season. Not only were Airmen and their families able to meet NASCAR driver Garrett Smithley at First Friday, but they were also fully involved in the weekend’s races as well. Roughly 35 service members were selected as honorary pit crew members for a behind-the-scenes NASCAR experience. Additionally, the Air Force’s unparalleled volunteer spirit was evident in the amount of outstanding Airmen I saw providing help throughout the weekend.
Despite the rain Sunday, we had Airmen of all ranks at the track, to include Col. Dawn Lancaster, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations commander, and her husband, Earl. This summer, the Lancasters will close out five decades of military service between the two of them; in anticipation of closing this chapter of their lives, Col. Lancaster served as the honorary starter for the weekend’s final race. From the smile and excitement on her face, I can only imagine this was the pinnacle of her “Dover Experience.” Mine is seeing that a community like Dover exists for our Airmen and their families.
For those of you who have not created your own “Dover Experience” yet, I encourage you to seek out upcoming events and talk with your fellow Airmen. Some of the best places to find information on what’s to come include: the Dover AFB App, the FSS website and the Community Notes in The Airlifter newspaper. The state of Delaware and the city of Dover want to support our military and make our time at Dover special. Whether it be enjoying an FSS “New York City on Your Own” trip, volunteering at a beer and wine festival or going on an Amish bike tour, you decide what you want out of your “Dover Experience.”