Editorials

Civilian, military friendships today grew from 'worst soldier town' label

New commander at Scott AFB describes hurricane relief efforts

Col. Leslie Maher, the new commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, talks about leading U.S. teams in Haiti and Puerto Rico in hurricane relief efforts.
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Col. Leslie Maher, the new commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, talks about leading U.S. teams in Haiti and Puerto Rico in hurricane relief efforts.

Thousands of soldiers trained for World War II at Scott Field, but few stayed long enough to create local ties. After the war, the locals no longer showed patience with drunk or unruly soldiers.

Locals also thought crime was worse at Scott Air Force Base than it really was. They thought soldiers were undercutting their business by re-selling items bought on base at a discount.

Military members thought local police were coming down harder on them than on the locals. They thought they were being gouged for inferior housing.

Things got so bad that "Look" magazine labeled Belleville "the worst soldier town in the U.S.A."

Base commanders and Belleville leaders knew they had to do something. They worked on getting more housing for military families. They worked on how they viewed one another.

In 1950 they started the G.I. Pal Dinner, with locals and service members breaking bread and barriers at the same table. We recently celebrated the 68th version of that event, the Belle-Scott Enlisted Dinner.

In 68 years this community went from being a place our military refused to serve, to a place they want to serve and remember fondly when they move on to other bases and to the Pentagon. Scott has friends in high places because of the relationships build here and offspring educated during duty here.

This area earned two Abilene Trophies for best place to serve with the Air Mobility Command. Air Force Times in January named Scott the second-best place to be stationed and previously ranked it No. 1.

Col. Leslie Maher is the new "mayor" of Scott as commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing. She is originally from South Dakota and described her reception here, from being welcomed at a new church to receiving help finding a new dentist and hairdresser.

She serves as a reminder of the simple courtesies and kindnesses that make a difference to those serving far from their homes. Our history serves as a reminder that the opposite treatment of those who create a $4 billion economic impact on this area can easily become a national shame.

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