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Looking to the future: Local Air Force Association holds first ever gathering at Fort Huachuca

FORT HUACHUCA — The Cochise County chapter of the Air Force Association (AFA) held its first gathering at Fort Huachuca’s Thunder Mountain Activity Center this week, celebrating the organization’s work in the community, as well as the important role the Air Force plays in protecting the nation.

While the AFA Cochise Chapter 107 has been in Sierra Vista since the 1980s, it is the first time the organization has held a formal gathering, said chapter President George Castle. The gathering, which is set to become a tradition for the organization, was conceived as a way to strengthen ties among the AFA members at the local, state, and national levels, as well as “say thank you” to the Cochise chapter’s community partners, he said.

“Mainly what we do is support the schools in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), so we spend most of our time doing that,” Castle said.

Since there is no Air Force base in the Sierra Vista area, the Cochise chapter is relatively small compared to others in the state, with about 130 members. However, those members make a big impact in the community, supporting local educational programs such as CyberPatriot, a national AFA program that encourages children to study STEM fields.

“We probably have between a third to a half of all of the CyberPatriot teams in all of Arizona, and that’s considering that Phoenix is the fifth or sixth largest city in the nation,” said Castle, adding that the Cochise chapter was voted best small AFA chapter in 2017. “So CyberPatriot is a really big thing that we work on a lot.”

Thinking about the future — whether it be teaching kids about STEM, or how to best defend the nation against looming threats — was a major theme of guest presenter Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright’s presentation at the event.

Wright, nicknamed after the famous pioneer pilot because a supervisor once told him he had “never met a fighter pilot named Bruce,” is the current president of the national Air Force Association, having been elected in early 2019 and overseeing the operations of nearly 100,000 AFA members nationwide.

He retired as a three-star general after 34 years of service, where his accomplishments included leading 65 combat missions. Wright and his wife, Kerri, traveled to Arizona from their home in Arlington, VA in order to learn about the Cochise chapter of the AFA and to speak about his vision for the organization.

“How is it that one of our strongest ever AFA chapters is in the middle of an Army post?” Wright joked at the beginning of his talk.

The tone of the presentation soon grew more serious, as Wright discussed the current threats posed to national security by Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS, and the importance of having a strong Air Force ready to stand up to them.


Air Force Association president Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright discusses current threats to national security.

“(It’s important) how we talk to those at the diner, and how we talk to our congressmen and our elected officials, about why we need an Air Force, and why we cannot thank enough those young men and women who are willing to serve for keeping us free and keeping us safe,” he said.

“We talk a lot about combat readiness — we don’t have readiness unless we have the strength of the families, and these young men and women, less than 1 percent of our society now, that sign up and still are willing to hold up their right hand.”

“We can’t do enough for them — and that’s our Air Force Association,” he continued.

The event concluded by giving formal thanks to some of the local businesses and organizations that had done their part to help the men and women of the Air Force and their families by becoming community partners with the Cochise chapter.

The organization also continued to support local education by presenting an award of $500 to their Teacher of the Year for 2019, Jeff Ofestedahl of the Center for Academic Success in Sierra Vista.

The Cochise chapter is currently “gearing up” to support the CyberPatriot program at Cochise College this summer, said Vice President Stu Carter.

“(We’re also) going to helps schools that may need computer capabilities that they may not have, again partnering with Cochise College, so that’s the number one project we’ll work this year,” he said.

The chapter has already scheduled their next annual gathering in order to continue advocating for the Air Force by working with all levels of the AFA and the community, he said.

Plans are to make the event even bigger than this year’s gathering.

“We hope to double the number of people who are here,” he said.

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Government expert sees no increase in San Pedro riparian area vegetation

PHOENIX — Since January, the federal government has been at odds with local governments and industry and recently reinvigorated the case to gain water rights for the continued preservation of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA).

With the court case in its final days, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management, tried to cast doubt to the defense witnesses conclusions that vegetation has increased along the SPRNCA.

Justin Huntington, research professor at the Desert Research Institute, a member of the NASA/USGS Landsat team and principal of Huntington Hydrologic, took the stand Tuesday as the next to the last witness for the federal government in the trial.

He was questioned by DOJ attorney Dave Gehlert about the vegetation in the SPRNCA based on normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). It is a simple indicator used to analyze remote sensing measurements from a satellite and assess whether an area being observed contains live green vegetation or not.

Huntington said there has not been a significant increase in SPRNCA vegetation.

His research showed there was some evidence of mesquite encroachment into grasslands of the terraces. However, he speculated losing the grass as a water user could balance out the water use of the mesquite.

“I saw no increase in riparian vegetation in the riparian,” he said. “I evaluated change in NDVI within the entire riparian corridor of the SPRNCA, including the floodplain of the entrenched active channel, and on the pre-entrenchment terraces — the whole riparian corridor with the floodplain excluded.”

The evaluation addressed NDVI for 1988, the year the SPRNCA was established, through 2017, the most recent year for which NDVI data was available, he said. “NDVI increased slightly over the whole riparian corridor and decreased slightly on the terraces, but neither change is statistically significant,” he said.

NDVI measures the chlorophyll in vegetation which reflects more near-infrared and green light compared to other wavelengths, Huntington said. It can assess whether the target being observed contains live green vegetation or not. Healthy vegetation absorbs most of the visible light that hits it, and reflects a large portion of the near-infrared light. Unhealthy or sparse vegetation reflects more visible light and less near-infrared light, so it makes it relatively easy to “see” how vegetation is responding to the climate, to temperatures.

He chose one cloud-free satellite image a year in the dry months of May or June to assess the vegetation index.

“I used an approach that paired multiple data sources, including remotely sensed satellite and aerial imagery, Geographic Information System (GIS) data, and ground-based field observations,” he said.

“This approach was chosen due to the large area that the riparian corridor occupies in the SPRNCA, along with the long time period required to adequately assess vegetation change, ideally about 30 years of continuous data.”

While there was some increase in vegetation in the southern reaches, the northern reaches appeared to have lost some, he added. It indicates vegetation growing in areas away from the active floodplain and on the pre-entrenchment terrace is not increasing as much in the south and is declining more in the north. Groundwater pumping may have an effect on the northern reaches.

“It is plausible that NDVI declines are being expressed in the north more so than in the south, since the predominant effects of the regional cone of depression will be manifested in the northern reaches of the SPRNCA due to groundwater gradients in the regional aquifer,” he said.

Huntington rebutted the testimony of Chris Garrett, an eco-hydrologist with SWCA Environmental Consulting, who said there was an extensive increase in vegetation within the SPRNCA.

It was a matter of the size of the pixel used in the imaging process, explained Huntington. Garrett used large pixels which made it hard to define detail. He used smaller pixels, which allowed him to “see” gaps in the canopy and the plant life popping up in them.

He also viewed the entire SPRNCA, while Garrett kept to a narrow band near the river “which effectively ignores the terraces and most of the mesquite trees that are the largest water users in the SPRNCA. The evaluation of measured riparian width does not capture plant density, cannot show the plants are using more water. It illustrates how much of the riparian community was excluded from the quantified NDVI analysis.”

Further, it was not possible to determine water use of the vegetation through NDVI, which Garrett said it could, Huntington said. If there is more vegetation, Garrett surmised it would use more water. Huntington said he was wrong.

“NDVI is not a good measure for water use,” he said. “None of the Garrett report’s findings allow for a conclusion that either riparian vegetation has increased within the SPRNCA, or that riparian vegetation uses more water since the SPRNCA was established.”


Yoga instructor Samantha Conway works with new student McKenzie Heise, 6, during last week’s Kid’s Yoga class at Thrive.

Kristi O’Brien/Tucson Speedway News  

Derek Kraus celebrates back-to-back wins Saturday at Tucson Speedway winning the K&N Pro Series West Twin 100s sponsored by The Port of Tucson. Kraus is pictured with Tucson Speedway trophy girls Anika O’Brien (left), Camren Lopez (right) and the track mascot Chilly Willy.