Local military base opens its doors to the public for the first time in 70 years

Posted at 10:58 PM, Jun 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-30 22:58:33-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — The Air National Guard has been around since 1947. Generals, colonels, airmen and women have walked in out of the gates on Dickman Avenue. Except the public. Friday that changed.

“Today we’re doing our first ever open house, celebrating our 70th anniversary,” said Gen. Col. Bryan Teff. “We opened the gates to the public — all the people — allow the public to come out and see what we do.”

For four hours, hundreds of people poured into the military base and toured their main hangar. Kids awed at the vehicles and played on the trucks.  Adults, young and old, spoke  with the various personnel about their specific operations like flying a fighter jet and giving someone CPR.

“I am so proud of this location,” said Brig. Gen. Kencil Heaton. “I  joined here in 1970 and I was here until 2000. So I’ve got wonderful memories of all that this base has accomplished during that time.”

Brig. Gen. Heaton was invited back, along with other retirees, to tour his old stomping grounds. He shook lots of hands with other former wing commanders  and reminisced with them about their time at the base. Douglas Shortridge reminisced too, especially when he stared at the hangar.

“It feels like coming back home,” said Shortridge. “This hangar especially after spending 10 years in here. And I haven’t been back here for 25 years.”

The 82-year-old ran inspections on the B57s while he was at the base from 1960 to 1970. He showed his friends the different vehicles and even the place where he used to play cards years ago. But now, he said the place looks better.

“It's super great,” said Shortridge. “It’s better now there’s a lot more buildings out here. There’s newer buildings. The equipment that they have now compared back to the ‘60s is and '70s is just unbelievable.”

Before the event ended, dozens of visitors took guided bus tours that drove them beyond just the hangar. Others watched planes speed through the sky. People walked away pleased with the event and knowing more about what goes on at base. Gen. Col. Teff said that was the goal.

“We have a great history of just a strong relationship with our local community, really all of Southwest Michigan,” he said. “We wanted to kind of give back a little bit.”