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Under Secretary Donovan visits base where his Air Force career began

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Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, center, was guest speaker at the graduation of Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 19-06, Feb. 15, 2019, at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan visited Vance Air Force Base Feb. 14-15.

Thirty-six years ago, Donovan graduated from Vance AFB with student pilot Class 83-03. Today he was the guest speaker for Class 19-06, bringing him full circle.

Donovan is the second-highest ranking civilian official in the Department of the Air Force, directly under Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson since August 2017.

He served 31 years in the Air Force, primarily flying the F15-C Eagle’s, retiring in the rank of colonel in 2008.

During his visit, Donovan met with his mentor, retired Lt. Col. William Schwertfeger, an Air Force pilot who was a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton 47 years ago, and now serves as a Vance AFB Partner in the Sky.

This morning, Donovan spoke with the students of Class 19-06 for breakfast, before receiving the Vance AFB State-of-the-Base briefing.

“I have a special affinity for Vance,” he said, “I spent the best year in my 42 years associated with the Air Force right here, and remember it fondly.”

He also discussed Vance AFB uniqueness, referencing the base’s long-running contracting relationship as “standing the test of time.”

The 17 members of Class 19-06 were then honored to receive Donovan as their graduation speaker.

“As I look out at the Air Force’s newest pilots,” Donovan said, “I’m reminded of my own graduation 36 years ago. Like you, I arrived at Vance ready to take on the world and dreamed of becoming the best pilot in the world.

“As I sat in my graduation seat, the threat of Soviet power was never more real,” said Donovan. “Today you are graduating in a time that is remarkably different, yet eerily similar, to the world that awaited me. Your new National Defense Strategy grapples with the return to the Great Power competition, clearly articulating the challenges we face and proclaiming our duty to prevail."

Donovan charged the new pilots with the mission of becoming the absolute best the Air Force can offer to the security of the United States, as he congratulated Class 19-06.

A few things have changed since Donovan was stationed at Vance AFB in 1983, most notably in the infrastructure and pilot training arenas.

The entrance to the base has moved, and the club, tower and multiple other support buildings are new and in different locations.

How the Air Force trains pilots has also changed dramatically. When the Under Secretary was going through pilot training, the only training aircraft at Vance AFB were the T-37 Tweet and T-38 Talon. The T-1A Jayhawk came onboard in 1994 and the T-6A Texan II replaced the T-37 in 2005.

The spirit of innovation fostered at Vance AFB is critical to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson’s strategic goals of fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter to build the Air Force the nation needs.

Donovan’s time at Vance AFB concluded with lunch attended by key Enid, Oklahoma civic leaders.

“It’s an emotional return to Vance Air Force Base for me,” Donovan reminisced, “I graduated 36 years and two weeks ago and walked across the same stage I did this morning. To be with the next generation of young pilots produced right here, flying off of the same runways I did, is just awesome. Like that time back then, the community ties and welcoming approach of Enid is so important.”

The visit to Vance AFB completed a three-base tour that included Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Donovan’s tour centered on the cultural shift of building a lethal, ready force for tomorrow’s fight through innovative, creative training enterprises.