MetroEast leaders honored with Abilene Trophy
The metro-east’s status as the top community to support an Air Mobility Command base became official Wednesday night with the presentation of the prestigious Abilene Trophy during a ceremony at the passenger terminal of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.
It was the second time in three years that the region won the Abilene Trophy in recognition of its support of Scott Air Force Base.
The ceremony was the culmination of years of work, planning and collaboration among businesses and communities that surround Scott, which is where AMC is headquartered. The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois spearheaded the application process for the trophy and pulled together the thick binder of supporting statements and other evidence that climaxed with Wednesday’s award ceremony.
Gerry Schuetzenhofer, chairman of the council’s Military Affairs Committee, told more than 200 attendees of the ceremony that the community was thrilled to receive its first Abilene Trophy in 2012.
“And we are ecstatic that it’s being awarded to our region for this second time in three years in acknowledgment of the first-class support demonstrated for the airman of Scott Air Force Base and their families during 2014,” Schuetzenhofer said.
The competition for the Abilene award — the statue of a bald eagle with one wing tethered to a rock — is intense every year as the communities that seek it submit thick binders full of evidence to justify why they should receive it.
One of the major things that made Southern Illinois’ nomination for the award stand out amid its rivals was the Scott Patriot Program, which provides free items or discounts to military personnel or veterans, as well as a wide array of support services, including incentives for civilian employers to hire veterans, according to Gray Bridwell, the chairman of the Abilene Committee.
“The other big thing, which I highlighted, was the collaboration between all the different communities,” Bridwell said. “That was really great....Collinsville, Edwardsville, everybody was working together. It was clear from the way it was presented.”
Bridwell called the metro-east’s submission “a wonderful display and you did it above anyone else. Many communities support their airmen. It’s true. Why wouldn’t you? But you did a collaborative effort..that stood out, and you were head and shoulders above all the other communities.
Mark Kern, the St. Clair County Board chairman, emphasized the importance of the Abilene Trophy, especially as it pertains to the future of Scott and the metro-east.
“This award is extremely important to all of us,” Kern said. “You are all the people that make this happen...Your faces are in that binder. Your faces are in that binder. People who read that understand that this community comes forward and is always there for Scott Air Force Base no matter what the need. We appreciate this award because it helps us when we try to grow Scott.”
And as the community seeks to expand Scott’s mission — such as making it the new home for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the 3,000 jobs it will bring — “all of these things are made easier for us by the fact that you’ve helped us tonight win this award.”
Col. Kyle Kremer, the commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, which oversees the sprawling air base, underscored the partnership that exists between the base and its neighboring communities.
“We are incredibly appreciative of the support you provide,” said Kremer, adding that holding the celebration in the airport passenger terminal was “the perfect venue” because “this is very symbolic of the relationship that we have with the community. It is connected to it. In fact, my partners and I got to bypass some of our on-base traffic by driving across the airfield to get here.”
The Abilene Trophy will go on display at St. Clair County administrative offices, and then will go on display at Madison County. The trophy will then circulate among the town halls of the towns that surround Scott.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.