BELLEVILLE — Col. Kyle Kremer, the commander of Scott Air Force Base, spoke a truth Thursday night that anyone who's worn a military uniform will recognize instantly.
"The enlisted force is truly the backbone of all the services," Kremer told an audience of several hundred guests at the 64th annual Belle-Scott Enlisted Dinner. "They truly get the work done."
Kremer's views echoed across the banquet hall at Fischer's Restaurant as local leaders paid tribute to the enlisted men and women stationed at Scott.
Mark Eckert, the Belleville mayor, noted the many volunteer activities that Scott personnel engage in, as well as their importance to the metro-east economy.
"We are very, very blessed to have you," Eckert said.
The love flowed both ways Thursday night, as Air Force members noted their appreciation for the support they have received from the community as epitomized by the dinner, which is organized by the Belle-Scott Committee, the nation's oldest civic support group for a military facility.
Sarah Haynes, an Air Force airman first class who works as an intelligence analyst, lauded the support the Belleville community has shown her fellow Scott airmen, who are dealing with the stress of deployments and uncertainty over their futures.
The support that community members show to Air Force members, especially when they re-adjust after a deployment, means a huge amount, Haynes said.
"It means a lot to us to reconnect, cut loose and have fun," she said. "Most importantly, thank you for standing beside us."
At the end of the dinner, the committee recognized three St. Clair County residents who had served with distinction during World War II:
* Don Miller, of Fairview Heights and Alan Brenneecke, of St. Louis, who served as crew members on B-24 bomber planes that flew dangerous missions over occupied Europe.
* Oscar Ossie Joffrey, of Swansea, a radio operator with the 45th Infantry Division, which spent 511 days in combat in Italy, France and Germany and liberated the Dachau concentration camp.
The Belle-Scott Dinner, and events like it, provide a chance for "volunteer work...and to be a part of the community, which means a lot," said Sr. Airman Jessica Simmons, of Belleville.