By June C. Hussey
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has been a point of patriotism and pride for this region for close to a century. Having twice in the last decade earned the Commander-in-Chief’s Installation Excellence Award, DMAFB is among the premier military installations on American soil.
“The combat and training capability Davis-Monthan provides our nation undoubtedly sets us apart,” said Col. Joseph Turnham, 355th Wing Commander. “But what distinguishes us most is our airmen. Our vision is to maintain a dynamic team of lethal, agile and resilient airmen, and the men and women of the 355th Wing make that happen every day. Every success we have and every accolade DM receives is a direct reflection of their commitment to our mission, each other and our country.”
Ninety-eight years after the airfield now known as DMAFB was first established, it continues to serve as the busiest single runway of any U.S. Air Force base. The 355th Wing is the Air Force’s only A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot training base, producing highly trained A-10C pilots to meet Combat Air Forces, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve requirements.
While the A-10 Attack mission remains an integral part of DM, the “Desert Lightning Team” is also now focused on full-spectrum Combat Search and Rescue operations for combatant commanders around the globe. To reflect the base’s increased war fighting capacity and the pride DM takes in both its Rescue and Attack missions, the 355th Wing transitioned from a Fighter Wing to a Wing two years ago.
Now the 355th stands ready to support civil and combat search and rescue missions in our local community and across the world, whether it involves rescuing injured fishermen in international waters or coming to the aid of stranded hikers in nearby rugged terrain.
“The 355th Wing, and DM as a whole, has accomplished some truly remarkable things since I joined the team in the summer of 2020 but, without a doubt, what I am most proud of is our airmen,” said Col. Turnham. “The global pandemic brought on a set of challenges no one could have expected and, day-in and day-out, they’ve proven they’re up to the task. They’ve done what’s needed to remain combat ready without losing sight of the importance of taking care of their wingmen and families.”
Col. Turnham continued, “That in and of itself is no small feat, but they weren’t content to rest on their laurels. While we continued executing our mission at home station and across the globe, our airmen planned and hosted the largest air show and open house in DM’s history and have been leading the way in shaping the future of combat employment through our Dynamic Wing concept, which recently led to our designation as one of Air Combat Command’s Lead Wings. Everything we accomplish as a team is thanks our airmen.”
Notably, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, airmen from the 355th Wing were being actively deployed to Europe amid the mounting tensions.
DM supports and sustains 34 mission partners from across the federal government. It is home to cross-functional and total-force mission sets conducted by the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, DHS, FAA, 55th Electronic Combat Group, 214th Attack Group, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 12th Air Force headquarters and the U.S. Space Force. DM also hosts the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (a.k.a. the Boneyard), which is charged with the unique mission of providing critical storage, maintenance and regeneration capabilities for the entire Department of Defense as well as other federal agencies and allied nations.
Spanning 10,530 acres, 505 buildings, 1,173 homes and a runway as long as 13,643 feet (that’s 45 football fields), DM is not only large in scale, it also generates a significant impact on our entire community, both socially and economically, to the tune of $2.6 billion annually.
DM currently employs about 11,000 airmen (6,000 active duty, 1,850 reserve/guard and 2,860 civilians.) Approximately 71% of base personnel live off base. While stationed here for an average of three to five years, airmen and their families become ingrained in the community fabric. An estimated 4,200 indirect jobs are created by this military installation, a value of $200 million. And that doesn’t account for the impact created by the 18,600 military retirees who live within 30 miles of metropolitan Tucson. DM’s retiree payroll for the area is $542 million.
The Gratitude is Mutual.
Tucsonans have strongly supported DM since the beginning. Tucson Metro Chamber’s Military Affairs Committee, which turns 94 this year, has provided service to airmen and educated the community about their important work. DM50, the non-profit volunteer group that advocates for DMAFB and its airmen, has raised more than $1.5 million for initiatives to improve the quality of life for military personnel at DMAFB.
“Our neighbors throughout Southern Arizona serve as our wingmen by supporting our airmen and ensuring we’re able to accomplish our wing’s Rescue and Attack mission, and those of the 34 federal mission partners here,” Turnham said “Whether it’s a quick ‘thank you for your service’ to an airman walking down the street, recognition of their specific contributions during community events like a Wildcat game or advocacy for continued, close partnerships from civic leaders across the region, this community’s support is felt in a real way, and we’re grateful for it.”
Turnham said DM works hard to explain its mission and purpose through a number of media and community programs that create opportunities for Tucsonans to interact with DM airmen. One example is its partnership with Arizona Athletics to mentor local middle school students.
“Through volunteer efforts and various tour programs, as well as partnerships with local community organizations, DM airmen are engaging with Tucsonans every day in meaningful ways,” he said. “The relationships we share at both the institutional and personal levels are what make our mission possible. Without Tucson’s support, we wouldn’t be the premier warfighting installation we are today, and I expect DM will remain a prominent fixture and economic driver in Southern Arizona for the foreseeable future.”