DOVER — Under the leadership of Col. Matt Husemann, the Dover Air Force Base’s primary mission is to protect and serve this country, but it’s followed by a close second: to serve and care for its Delaware community.
“To all the leaders here who support this base: everyone in this room is like family, brought together by one common mission. We are the face of Team Dover,” Husemann told dozens of Kent and state officials Monday morning. “It is a privilege to serve this community, and it is truly an honor.”
In his inaugural State of the Base address at the DAFB, the commander of the 436th Airlift Wing outlined his vision of Kent County’s largest employment hub for one of the first times since he took command in June. The DAFB has about 6,400 airmen and has all the amenities of a city within a city, all geared to transport personnel and cargo around the world when duty calls.
One of the most critical missions in the past year was Operation Allies Refuge, where the U.S. military airlifted about 124,000 refugees out of Afghanistan last summer. Husemann highlighted the perspective of one service member, Maj. Madison Scacci, who speaks the native language Dari and helped organize female engagement teams to make sure every evacuee’s voice was heard during the mission through different bases.
“It’s through [Scacci’s] eyes we saw empathy,” Husemann said. “She has the unique ability to take the tactical experience and move to the strategic, and she took it one step further.”
Much of the DAFB’s day-to-day mission involves empathy, as the military base is home to the largest military mortuary in the U.S. Department of Defense and oversees dignified transfers of fallen service members. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at DAFB is also the only human identification lab overseen by the DOD, with more than 170 contractors in its toxicology and DNA labs. The DNA lab alone holds 8.6 million DNA cards to ensure that a soldier is never left behind.
The DAFB is also home to the Joint Personal Effects Depot, where 22 processing units handle thousands of personal effects from fallen soldiers in a year.
When it comes to the economic impact of the DAFB and its daily business, Husemann pointed out that several departments employ civilian or military contractors that bring thousands of dollars in business to the state capital in secondary business.
“In this last year, the local contracts we had brought $6.8 million to Delaware, and $2 million were for small businesses, everything from maintenance to medical,” Huseman said. “To take it one step further, the government purchase card program spent $8.6 million in this area. And it’s all thanks to you, the local businesses.”
The 512th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve Command associated with the base, has 512 airmen who work civilian jobs in Delaware and another 1,000 more throughout the country that come to serve when called. When they arrive in Dover, they stay in 570 hotel rooms and bring $152 million in economic impact.
The DAFB is also one of the largest and busiests air freight terminals in the state, so its maintenance teams work 365 days a year to ensure all planes, not just the C-5s and C-17s fly right. To invest further in this mission, a $41.2 million fuel cell hangar will be built on the base, making it the first one built since 1983.
Fuel cell hangars are designed with special ventilation to allow repairs to fuel intake systems. The hangar will have state-of-the-art fire, mechanical and electrical safety measures to ensure the safety of the maintainers working on the aircraft. It will be large enough to house the C-5M Super Galaxy, the largest aircraft the U.S. Air Force has on hand.
“That will give our maintainers another 110 days to work on them, and hopefully at the next State of the Base we can announce a ribbon cutting date,” Husemann said.
Other capital projects on the horizon include a new elementary school on the base and plans for a $17.5 million blood lab and a 140-unit dormitory for guests and auxiliary airmen is in the works, pending DOD approval.
In the last year, the base also opened its innovation lab Bedrock, where airmen have worked on 30 projects with companies like Boeing and T-Mobile, and other small businesses. Husemann noted the base continues to have a strong professional development program with Delaware State University, pairing aviation students with Air Force captains to learn more about the military as a career option.
Looking to the future, Husemann hopes that the coming days will allow for more community outreach opportunities. Tentatively, the DAFB is looking to bring back the open house and Thunder Over Dover Air Show in April 2022.
“Thank you for being part of an amazing team that is empowered to win in the future,” Husemann told the room packed with city and state leaders. “Just watch us.”