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Air Force Association President Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright (retired), left, chats with Sierra Vista resident and World War II veteran Jerry Consiglio at the Cochise AFA chapter’s first annual gathering at Fort Huachuca on Monday night.

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.

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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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