One squadron’s loss is another squadron’s gain

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Missy Sterling, 442d Fighter Wing Public Affairs
  • 442d Fighter Wing

The 303d Fighter Squadron became the sister squadron to the city of Leeton, Missouri, on April 14, 2018, just one day after Leeton’s previous sister squadron, the 394th Combat Training Squadron, merged with the 13th Bomb Squadron.

“This is the first time we have had a partner community assigned to the wing or even our squadron,” said Lt. Col. Michael Leonas, the deputy commander of the 442d Fighter Group. “We’re excited about this partnership and the opportunities we’ll have to connect with the community.”

Leeton’s mayor, Taylor Elwell, attended the April unit training assembly commander’s call and toured the 303d FS, the first of many interactions between the new partners. Elwell, a physical therapist in Clinton, Missouri, is also the second vice president in the Whiteman Base Community Council.

Each month, the Whiteman BCC invites base leadership and civic leaders from the surrounding 18 communities to engage with each other and build rapport. Each community is partnered with a different squadron.

“Last year we decided to become part of the base community council to get a better understanding of Whiteman and its mission,” said Elwell. “We have Airmen who live in our communities, their kids go to our schools, we need to know what’s going on on base.”

Pilots of the 303d FS previously recall Leeton as one of the communities that skirts their assigned controlled bail-out area. The bail-out area is a designated safe place for pilots to perform a controlled ejection in the event of an inflight emergency. Now, they plan to develop a lasting relationship with no plans to bail out on them.

The new partners say they look forward to opportunities to gain a new understanding of each other. Elwell particularly sees an opportunity to gain a new perspective and help offer support to the squadron.

“I think there’s a lot of room for knowledge to be gained by the community,” said Elwell. “We have a small community but we have a lot of folks who really care and want to help.”

More than 300 members across the 18 BCC communities put on fundraisers to help sponsor squadron events or help military members in need.

“We didn’t want to have any gaps in our level of support because our goal in the base community council is to support the Airmen and families on base,” said Karl Kramer, the Whiteman Base Community Council president. “The key is-- even though there is a transition-- whether it is active, guard or Reserve units, we want to make sure there is a constant level of support.”

Most of the squadron and community partnerships have been long-standing, so it’s a somewhat rare opportunity to have a different squadron in this position. Even while many of the 303d members are deployed, they look forward to coming home to a new partnership Leonas said.

This partnership is the first of its kind for the 303d, and Elwell hopes it will offer a more-permanent partnership for the city of Leeton.