SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The front door to Sheppard AFB is beginning to take shape as contractors continue work on the installation’s Main Gate.
The unique multi-million dollar project that consists of local, state and federal funding is transforming the primary entrance to the base into one that is aesthetically pleasing and inviting, while enhancing antiterrorism and force protection measures. The overall project is slated to be complete in the spring.
Funding includes $5.7 million in federal dollars as well as a $1.5 million Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant from the state through the Texas Military Preparedness Commission. Another $1.5 million came from the Wichita Falls Economic Development Corp., which was approved by the Wichita Falls City Council.
Mark McBurnett, 82nd Civil Engineering Squadron base civil engineer, said the construction project to address security concerns and beautify the entrance is exceeding expectations.
“Because we are working with the city and using property off base to incorporate the bus stop and getting students funneled in from the bus stop, it’s a little more than the Air Force would’ve been able to do as a standalone entity,” he said. “I think it looks nicer. It will, again, function exactly as it should antiterrorism and force protection wise. But, it’s going to be a much nicer view than we ever expected.”
Although base leadership has had eyes on a complete makeover of the front gate for almost two decades, it wasn’t until about four years ago that the project picked up steam when the city of Wichita Falls applied for and received the DEAAG funding. The city purchased land along the perimeter fence at the main gate and demolished several dilapidated structures that presented potential antiterrorism and force protection challenges.
The second phase of DEAAG funding provides an immediate visual change to the Main Gate with a Heritage Circle near the intersection of Sheppard Access Road and Old Burkburnett Road, which showcases a T-38 Talon mounted on a pedestal and the Maintenance Man statue, both of which were on display inside the base perimeter before the project.
Keith Maxwell, resident engineer for the Tulsa Corps of Engineers, said the project was, for the most part, constrained by the original footprint of the old Main Gate and entrance, with the exception of moving into what was the former Wherry Housing area for additional curvature for incoming traffic. The added curve will take motorists around Heritage Circle.
Maxwell said it was a combined effort from contractors and base volunteers to make the T-38 display possible. He said the contractor did the work for the pedestal and mounting system, but the efforts of Sheppard volunteers who helped prepare the aircraft to be mounted finished out the project. The aircraft was placed on the pedestal Nov. 27, 2019.
“The Air Force volunteers that really helped put the plane together worked closely with the contractor on that part of it, particularly for the mounting system that goes inside the airplane to mount it to the pedestal,” he said. “They were obviously a big part of the effort … putting the plane actually on the pedestal and getting it mounted properly.”
Not seen are specific security and safety measures to enhance force protection protocols. For example, two lanes of traffic will enter the base, expanding to three at a new security checkpoint during peak traffic. Traffic exiting the base will use two lanes.
“The antiterrorism and force protection measures are not something that’s beautiful to look at,” McBurnett said. “It’s something that must be in place to protect the installation. They are there, it’s just not something that the average person notices.”
Another improvement to the area that has been in use for a few months is the new bus transit plaza, which includes covered boarding areas and parking.
McBurnett said the base had attempted to get the project going through traditional military construction funds, but they weren’t able to get the right combination of federal funding together to meet the scope of the project ahead of them. It took a strong partnership with the local government to come up with a solution.
Karen Montgomery-Gagné, planning administrator for Wichita Falls, said the combination of multiple levels of government has made the project and process interesting and challenging at times. For example, the Heritage Circle component of the project the city was responsible for was actually on installation property, creating an atypical situation the entities had to work through.
Montgomery-Gagné said in the end, though, the project is one the base and city will benefit from for years to come. She said the strong relationship between the base, Wichita Falls and the surrounding area is “valued and respected.”
“We support Sheppard. Sheppard supports our community,” she said. “That just goes along with these opportunities to help strengthen military value in our community and help protect it from future changes that may occur or decisions that are made in Washington because we do have a very long history of having a strong partnership.”