Anyone who has flown into Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA) has certainly noticed the military aircraft lined up just east of the runways. Local residents often see fighter jets streaking through the sky – A-10s until recently, and now F-16s. The military base, home to the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing, is certainly no secret.
Still, most people would be astonished to learn just how much the 122nd contributes to the local economy. John Urbahns, president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. (GFW), wanted to better understand the impact of the base, so GFW contracted Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute to compile a report on exactly that. When the study was released in late September, Urbahns was surprised by the results.
“The economic impact is even larger than I realized,” he says. “I don’t think people recognize the value of the asset we have in the fighter wing.”
Within Allen County, the local spending of the 122nd is estimated to be $63.5 million annually. The total soars to $113 million when considering the entire state. In addition, the 122nd supports more than 1,100 jobs throughout the state of Indiana, including 672 in Allen County alone.
“All too often, the Indiana National Guard and the Indiana Air National Guard are only looked at as part-time employers,” says Urbahns. “The 122nd Fighter Wing with 423 full-time military and civilian employees and 727 part-time employees is a major employer in our community.”
Col. Joshua Waggoner, commander of the 122nd, emphasizes the permanent nature of the unit. While people often view military members as transient, the drill status guardsmen who make up the lion’s share of the base’s 1,100 employees make their homes in northeast Indiana.
“They truly are part of the community because that’s where they live, work and play,” says Waggoner. “That’s why community engagement is so important to us.”
Indeed, under Waggoner’s command, the 122nd takes an active role in its support of northeast Indiana. It has formed partnerships with several local organizations, including the Fort Wayne Komets. It works with schools and community organizations regularly, and it provides military honor guards, presentation of colors, guest speakers and base tours upon request and approval.
Waggoner notes that support is a two-way street and he’s deeply grateful that the 122nd also finds itself on the receiving side. That’s not the case everywhere and he doesn’t take it for granted.
“The level of support we get sets the standard,” says Waggoner. “Our people can hardly go anywhere in uniform in this community without someone offering to buy them a cup of coffee or thank them for their service.”
Waggoner hopes people will continue to vocalize their support of the 122nd and its operations. It’s what has helped keep the unit in Fort Wayne since the 1940s.
“The people here are our greatest assets,” says Waggoner.
Another key factor is the success the 122nd has had with recruitment. The fighter wing currently operates at 100% staffing, which has helped elevate it when tough decisions have been made for other units. It takes a lot of work to maintain that level, though.
Waggoner touts the many benefits of Guard service. Besides getting paid for service, members can get free tuition to any state university. Starting next year, they can receive a voucher for the equivalent amount to apply to private schools. Most important, though, are the relationships. The shared experiences that come from serving in the Guard, says Waggoner, result in brothers and sisters in arms – for life.
Urbahns hopes citizens of northeast Indiana realize the far-reaching impact of 122nd and continue to actively support it.
“I think there’s a lot of community pride in the fact that we have an Air National Guard base and a fighter wing at FWA,” says Urbahns. “We want to make sure we maintain the fighter wing for the good of our community.”
Greater Fort Wayne Inc.
200 W. Main St.
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802
President & CEO: John Urbahns
Indiana Air National Guard 122nd Fighter Wing
3005 W. Ferguson Road
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46809
Commander: Col. Joshua C. Waggoner