Best of 2022: Five stories that affected Wright-Patterson

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Hannah

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Hannah

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base sees plenty of change every year, but one thing that doesn’t change: It remains (as one advocate described it) the “intellectual capital of the U.S. Air Force.”

Home to more than a few significant missions responsible for equipping and arming Airmen and Space Force Guardians now and into the future, Wright-Patterson remains Ohio’s biggest employer in one place, a center of activity for 32,000 military and civilian employees.

Here are some of the more significant news stories that affected the base and the Dayton area in the past year.

Former AFRL commander is convicted of abusive sexual contact

A military judge found Air Force Maj. Gen. William Cooley guilty of one charge of abusive sexual contact on the sixth day of an historic court-martial at Wright-Patterson in April.

Air Force Judge Col. Christina Jimenez deliberated for some five hours before recessing for the day on a Friday afternoon. The verdict was pronounced as soon as court opened on a Saturday morning.

Cooley, 56 at the time, a two-star general and a former commander of Air Force Research Laboratory, was found guilty of one specification of abusive sexual contact against his brother’s wife.

The judge later sentenced Cooley to a reprimand that may impact his career and retirement and ordered that he forfeit $10,910 of monthly pay for five months.

Air Force celebrates 75 years of defending the nation

Although the Air Force celebrated its 75th birthday on Sept. 18, its roots stretch back much further, firmly in the soil of Dayton history.

In fact, it was a band of Dayton business and civic leaders who worked together to save fledgling military aviation research and test flight functions growing in and around Dayton at McCook and Wright Fields after the First World War.

In 1924, the group had a two-day fundraising campaign, raising well over $400,000 to purchase land from the Miami Conservancy District — the area’s multi-county flood control effort — to give to President Calvin Coolidge and the U.S. government, asking him to keep Army Air Corps work in the area.

“I actually have the copy of the letter from President Coolidge saying, ‘Thanks for donating this,’” said Kevin Rusnak, chief historian for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson.

Their work helped preserve what became Wright-Patterson.

Key missions welcome new commanders

It was a year of leadership changes at Wright-Patterson.

In July, Col. Christopher Meeker took command of the 88th Air Base Wing, the unit that acts as protector and “landlord” of the entire base. He succeeded Col. Patrick Miller who had led the wing since June 2020. Miller now serves as Director of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection at Headquarters Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

A month before, Gen. Duke Z. Richardson succeeded Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr. as commander of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at a ceremony at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, taking charge of a command that manages more than a third of the Air Force budget, managing and dispersing funds across multiple installations worldwide.

Also in June, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) welcomed Col. Ariel Batungbacal as its commander, succeeding Col. Maurizio Calabrese.

Base moves past COVID

While the pandemic is never entirely forgotten or disregarded, base leaders shepherded Wright-Patt to new phases in 2022.

In August, Miller set the base in a “Bravo+” health protection condition (HPCON), loosening an array of restrictions.

Wright-Patterson started 2022 in its strictest HPCON level, Delta, largely reacting to dire regional COVID metrics, such as hospitalizations and case positivity rates, across Dayton and Ohio.

“We are trying to make good, risk-informed, data-driven decisions about how we proceed forward,” Miller said in August.

But as conditions improved, the Air Force Marathon resumed in-person competition in September and as of early December, the base was in HPCON Alpha status, with masks mandatory only at the base Medical Center.

In fact, AFMC commander Gen. Duke Richardson sent an email and memo to the command in late November, directing supervisors to reassess the “telework” practice.

Courts see vaccine mandate fight while House defense budget ends mandate

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Plaintiffs — including many from from Wright-Patterson — took to federal courts in a fight over the military mandate to accept the COVID-19 vaccine.

Led by Hunter Doster, an Air Force Research Laboratory first lieutenant, plaintiffs litigated to create a legal class, charging that service leaders were disregarding sincerely held religious beliefs when they sought an exemption from the mandate.

Air Force leaders say the vaccine is necessary for military fitness, readiness and unit cohesion.

The legal case continues. But in early December, the House of Representatives approved a $858 billion defense budget, one that directs the Department of Defense to rescind the mandate.

Wright-Patterson Medical Center answers the need

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

The military helped civilian hospitals shoulder the pandemic burden from the beginning. That continued last year.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, nearly 1,000 U.S. Air Force personnel, including 55 people from Wright-Patterson, were deployed to help civilian hospitals and clinics into the early part of 2022.

In January, the 88th Air Base Wing said a 15-member Air Force team with physicians, nurses, and medics was deployed to support the Mercy Health Care system in Muskegon, Mich. Personnel from the same unit were also sent to Michigan last year.

“Our Airmen are always proud to serve, but there is something even more special to our team members in providing care to our nation’s citizens alongside our civilian medical partners,” said Col. Christian Lyons, the 88th Medical Group commander. “Nothing is more inspiring than the military-civilian partnership being demonstrated right now to save lives.”

About the Author