Just about 100 years ago, Belleville’s business leaders were fighting with St. Louis’s business leaders to become home to a military installation. We won that one.
On June 14, 1917, seven landowners in Shiloh Valley Township leased the government 624 acres for $7,400 as a place to train pilots for World War I. Scott Field was born.
Since then, Scott was where aeromedical evacuation started, was where dirigibles once filled a massive hangar, was where radio operators trained for World War II, was where worldwide airlift and then surface transportation were orchestrated. Today Scott Air Force Base represents a $3 billion impact on the local economy and 41,000 service members, civilian employees, retirees and dependents are here because of it.
This year will be a chance to rediscover a century of military history. More importantly, it will be a time to celebrate the relationship between this community and the base.
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There was the initial effort to locate the base here, but soon there was a need for Belleville leaders to scrounge 22 rail cars of pipe to extend water to the field. The field almost closed after World War I, but then the lighter than air fleet was attracted. When that mission went away, the central location again made it ideal to train soldiers for World War II. U.S. Rep. Mel Price brought major commands to the base and then U.S. Rep Jerry Costello built on that legacy by not only ensuring Scott was spared during base closings but that commands were moved to it from bases being closed.
Through it all, the relationship between local residents and the service members has defined this base and made it a favorite place to be deployed. Two Abilene Trophies in three years named this community as the best place in the world for supporting the Air Mobility Command.
Ask a young airman stationed in Honolulu or a young Marine in Twentynine Palms how they are treated by the locals to truly appreciate our relationship with military service members. No cold shoulder here, but rather a good chance some local will pick up the meal tab for service members.
Today we expect to be visited by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner as the Scott Air Force Base 100th year celebration begins. We expect to gather June 10-11 to see the Thunderbirds perform at the first Scott open house since 2012.
We expect to start a second century of vigorously defending those who defend us, whether with Jennies or cyberwarfare. We wish a happy and peaceful centennial to our colleagues at and this community’s relationship with Scott Air Force Base.