AFA National Report

Nov. 1, 2009

National Teacher of the Year

At September’s Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and National Convention outside Washington, D.C., a retired senior master sergeant received AFA’s highest honor for teachers.

William L. Austin, from Pocalla Springs Elementary School in Sumter, S.C., was named National Aerospace Teacher of the Year.

The Swamp Fox Chapter (S.C.)nominated him for the honor.

William Austin, AFA’s National Aerospace Teacher of the Year, and fifth grader Michael Brown watch the vortex created as water rushes into the lower bottle. Austin is a curriculum coach at Pocalla Springs Elementary School in Sumter, S.C.

Austin enlisted in 1972, becoming a munitions systems specialist. He earned a degree in aerospace technology from the Community College of the Air Force in 1991 and, in 1994, retired from active duty. That year, he also earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of South Carolina and began his teaching career at Pocalla Springs. He taught third, fourth, and fifth grade.

After receiving a master’s degree from South Carolina State University, he became a curriculum coach. Today, he supervises science, math, and technology instruction and ensures professional development of the teachers.

As an adjunct professor for the College of Charleston, he teaches a summer course in science methods for elementary and middle school teachers.

Austin is the 24th recipient of AFA’s National Aerospace Teacher of the Year award.

AFA at the Air Force Marathon

Several members of the Wright Memorial Chapter in Dayton, Ohio, volunteered at the annual Air Force Half-Marathon, manning a water stop on the course that ran through Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Wanda J. Lander organized the volunteers, signing them up, directing them in assembling runner information packets before the race, and helping them hand out water and Gatorade to the runners.

Eugene A. Longo, Tony Chitwood, and Nathan Flack organized cadet volunteers from local high schools and universities. The cadets worked at the registration tables and, during the race, filled cups for the “hydration station.” It was located at the base’s tennis club, just after mile marker five.

Other chapter volunteers included President Kent D. Owsley, VP Jeff A. Liffick, Treasurer Charles Spencer, W. Ron Goerges, and Joanne Powell.

Some 3,800 runners completed the 13.1-mile course that began and ended at the US Air Force Museum.

Just over 2,000 others did the full 26.2-mile marathon. Their numbers included Lexington Chapter President Daniel Wells, from Kentucky. A veteran of 50 marathons in 50 states—a feat he did in seven years—Wells completed this marathon in five hours, 22.5 minutes. He is 62 years old.

Dave Johnston, 35, of Xenia, Ohio, won the marathon, coming in at two hours, 30 minutes, 41 seconds. The first military finisher, Ron Young, 29, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., came in third. The first female across the finish line was Kate Papenberg, 23, also the top military female finisher.

The first Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson took place in September 1997.

Relighting the Eternal Flame

Through the efforts of the Lt. Col. B. D. “Buzz” Wagner Chapter, the eternal flame in Johnstown, Pa., burns once again.

A city landmark and a point of interest for visitors, the eternal flame memorializes 2,209 people who died in the May 1889 Johnstown Flood. The flood was caused by a large rainstorm and a weakened dam that held 20 million tons of water.

Due to wind and weather, the eternal flame had trouble staying lit virtually from the time of its 1990 construction, said Chapter President William B. Burns. Solving the problem took three years and many hands.

Community Partner Timothy Raab of Air Management Inc. donated an electronic ignition system, shipped in at his expense from California. He also designed a cap to top the lantern-style housing of stainless steel and tempered glass that surrounds the flame. The cap and the ignition system are key to keeping the flame lit, said Burns.

For his part, Burns persuaded a concrete company to refurbish the border surrounding the eternal flame and got the city public works department to repair brickwork. Chapter Treasurer James M. Kirkstadt’s connections resulted in the Johnstown Garden Club handling the landscaping.

The flame was tested all summer long. One August day, Burns was at a baseball game across the street from the flame, when a thunderstorm rolled through, with torrential rains and high winds. “The flame didn’t even flicker,” Burns said.

So on Sept. 16, the chapter held an official relighting ceremony. Pennsylvania State President Robert C. Rutledge arranged for a color guard of AFJROTC cadets from Ligonier Valley to post the colors, and other cadets from the same unit performed as an honor guard. Johnstown Flood Museum Executive Director Richard Burkert was among the guest speakers at the early evening gathering.

More Chapter News

The Tennessee Valley Chapter (Ala.) celebrated the Air Force’s 62nd birthday in September in Huntsville, Ala., home to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.Thus, the guest speaker, retired Brig. Gen. Gary S. Connor, looked out at the gathering of 60 guests and called them an “oasis of blue in a sea of green.” Connor was deputy program manager for the ballistic missile defense system at the Missile Defense Agency until retiring Sept. 1. To spotlight the Air Force anniversary, the chapter also sponsored billboards in at least five locations in Huntsville. They were displayed all week, said chapter member Russell V. Lewey. The message: “Happy Birthday, US Air Force—Back Then and Still Today, The World’s Premier Airpower!”

In Klamath Falls, Ore., the Bill Harris Chapter’s Teacher of the Year received two awards in recognition of nearly 40 years at the blackboard. Sharon S. Lewis, a resource room teacher at Henley Elementary School, accepted the AFA award from Air National Guard Lt. Col. Curtis A. Waite, who is the chapter president, and from the chapter’s namesake, World War II triple ace Bill Harris. Lewis then received a second award certificate from the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce. The ceremony took place at a school staff meeting and was attended by Col. Richard W. Kelly, vice commander of the ANG’s 173rd Fighter Wing at Klamath Falls Airport.

Retired Col. Michael J. Berenc, the senior aerospace science instructor for the AFJROTC program at Lafayette Senior High School in Ballwin, Mo., recently received honors as State Teacher of the Year. The Spirit of St. Louis Chapter—headed by Gary M. Young—had nominated him, and several chapter members were on hand at the teachers’ assembly where Berenc received an AFA Certificate of Appreciation, a check, and an AFA jacket. The guest who traveled the farthest to make the assembly was undoubtedly State President Patricia J. Snyder, who drove nearly 600 miles round-trip, from Overland Park, Kan., to the school, located in a St. Louis suburb.

At their August meeting, the Cochise Chapter of Sierra Vista, Ariz., gave early recognition to two members who were to be inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame in October. William P. Hess and Gene Fenstermacher were among 16 inducted Oct. 30 in Phoenix. Hess, a chapter founding member and retired master sergeant, covers military affairs for a local newspaper. Fenstermacher, a retired colonel, serves in several veterans organizations and on an environmental commission. He is the chapter’s legislative affairs VP. Chapter officials prepared Hess’ nomination package for the Hall of Fame and endorsed Fenstermacher’s nomination.

Hawaii Chapter President Nora Ruebrook represented AFA at a memorial service marking the 59th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. Ruebrook joined guests from numerous veterans organizations in a wreath-laying ceremony at Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known locally as Punchbowl. The number of wreaths laid in the annual ceremony corresponds to the number of years that have passed since the war commenced on June 25, 1950.

Through an AFA Chapter Matching Grant, the Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker Memorial Chapter (Ohio) donated $2,000 to the Motts Military Museum in Columbus, Ohio. Museum Director Warren E. Motts and museum Treasurer Ronald Albers—both chapter members—accepted the grant. The funds are for a NASA exhibit.

Unit Reunions

601st and 615th ACWRON, Germany. April 25-30, 2010 in Santa Fe, NM. Contact: Francis Gosselin (352-588-9295) (

Seeking Iceland radar units, including the 667th, 932nd, 933rd, and 934th AC&W Sqs (1952-2006), for a reunion in 2010. Contact: William Chick (803-422-9486) (

Unit reunion notices should be sent four months ahead of the event to, or mail notices to “Unit Reunions,” Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209-1198. Please designate the unit holding the reunion, time, location, and a contact for more information. We reserve the right to condense notices.


At a Tennessee Valley Chapter meeting, retired Brig. Gen. Gary Connor (left) meets Civil Air Patrol cadet Andrew Hall (center) and CAP officer John Hall.

Missouri State President Patricia Snyder displays the Missouri State Teacher of the Year award that went to retired Col. Michael Berenc (left), Lafayette High School, Ballwin, Mo.

Lt. Col. Curtis Waite presents the Bill Harris Chapter Teacher of the Year award to Sharon Lewis (left) at Henley Elementary School, Klamath Falls, Ore. At right is chapter namesake Bill Harris.