Chapter 1:  The Beginning of Civ-Mil

By Richard E. Spann

In 1988 a group of Antelope Valley civic leaders was invited by Maj. Gen. John Schoeppner, the AFFTC Commander at the time, to accompany him on a visit to Patrick AFB in Florida.  Among the civic leaders present was Aida O’Connor.  She was quite impressed with the Patrick Civ/Mil Group who hosted them while at Patrick.  On the flight back to Edwards, she asked Maj. Gen. Schoeppner if there was a similar group in the AntelopeValley.  He replied there was not, but that he had been told that if anyone could form such a group it would be Aida, which was the reason he invited her.  Upon returning to Lancaster, Aida with the help of a small group of other leaders, including (alphabetical by last name) Clyde Bailey, Faye Harrington, Roger Persons, Patrice Scanlon, Dale Ware and Yvonne Valencia met to informally create such a group.

Aida, Clyde, Faye and Roger then met with the local government officials, Chambers of Commerce and others to ascertain who have an interest in supporting Edwards.  They found out that a high-level interest did exist in our local community.  They held sporadic informal meetings until October 1989 when Maj. Gen. Schoeppner asked their help in hosting a group of civic leaders from another Air Force Base.  Aida was able to muster over seventy-five local leaders for the meeting, vastly exceeding her expectations. After this event, it was decided that it was time to formalize the group.  Thus, the Edwards AFB Civilian Support Group was established in late 1989.

The group began meeting on a regular basis, adopted a rough set of by-laws, and embarked on their first project, which was to provide the Base with new flagpoles and flags for each of the States as well United States Territories.  Each flag was to have a plaque at its base with the name the donor.  Donors were given a first come, first served basis to buy a flag and pole.  Aida announced the project on April 1, 1990 and indicated that within the month all flags and poles would be purchased.  After receiving the flags and poles, a dedication ceremony was held in July with all donors and members invited for a fun filled day at Edwards.


Chapter 2:  The Flag Park



Chapter 3:  Chapter 3:  The Civ-Mil Wall



Chapter 4:  Operation Warm Heart



Chapter 5:  The Honorary Commanders’ Program

by John A. Fergione

With special thanks to Maj Gen (ret) Curt Bedke and especially his wife Ina!

When Curt and Ina Bedke arrived at Edwards AFB in October, 2004 they knew there had been an Honorary Commanders’ a program in the past, but it had apparently not been maintained.  They had some email notes referring to Joan Witte, from Paramount, as the Test Operations Honorary Commander, but they don’t remember if any other squadrons still had one.  He wanted to formalize the program across the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC), and so he talked with Aida O’Connor, naturally, and they got things rolling.

In an email sent by Mike Belzil, who is currently the EAFB Civ-Mil President and was then the AFFTC/DS (Director of Staff) on Wednesday, July 27, 2005 (Can you believe Ina still had the original email? – Oh yes, if you know her, you can!), Mike wrote that Maj Gen Bedke planned to formally announce the establishment of the Edwards Honorary Commanders Program during his remarks at the Civ-Mil Annual Barbecue at Lane Ranch on the following evening.  From a handout prepared by the AFFTC:

The Edwards AFB Honorary Commanders Program will pair Center, Wing, Group and selected Squadron Commanders with community leaders for a 1-year “tour”.  These pairings will encourage community-military leadership interaction and promote mutual involvement in base and community events.  The program offers a great opportunity for community leaders to gain insight into EAFB operations.  Military leaders will benefit through greater involvement in key community events.  Increased interaction between civilian and military leaders will foster mutual cooperation, trust and esprit de corps.


Host Commanders will invite their

respective honorary commanders and spouses to unit events such as tours, quarterly awards presentations, commander’s calls, holiday parties, barbeques, ceremonies, deployments, and homecomings.  In return, honorary commanders will include military leaders in similar community events.  At the conclusion of the 1-year tour, host commanders will be paired with different honorary counterparts to promote expanded interaction with community leaders.

Following a meeting with Ms. Terry Scott, the EAFB Civ-Mil President at the time, Maj Gen Bedke endorsed the following as his first Honorary Commanders:

Honorary AFFTC/CC (Commander):  Ms Aida O'Connor, Charter Member and Founder of the AFFTC Civ-Mil Support Group

Honorary AFFTC/MA (Mobilization Assistant):  Mr. Lynn Watkins, Director, Lancaster Department of Motor Vehicles

Honorary AFFTC/DV (Deputy Commander):  Mr. Domingo Gutierrez, Owner, Domingo's Restaurant, Boron

Honorary 412 TW/CC (Test Wing Commander):  Ms. Alis Clausen, Regional Manager of Public Affairs, Southern California Edison Company

Honorary 95 ABW/CC (Air Base Wing Commander):  Mr. Dennis Davenport, Former City Manager, City of Lancaster

Thus, we can state that the official start of the “reincarnation” of the AFFTC Honorary Commanders’ program was in July, 2005.


Chapter 6:  Operation Higher Grounds Internet Café

By Richard Spann

In the middle of 2006, Lt. Col. Herrie Reed, a Protestant Chaplain at Edwards, recognized the need for a facility geared to dormitory residents of the Base.  He visualized a place within walking distance where Airmen could congregate in a relaxing, non-alcoholic atmosphere, and where they could surf the internet, play video games, read and watch TV and movies.  As he was formulating his idea, and was passing it up the command chain, he tragically suffered a massive stroke and died on September 22, 2006.  Shortly thereafter, Major General Curtis M. Bedke, AFFTC Commander, was concerned with the closing, due to budget constraints, of the Joshua Tree Inn, a place where Airmen could eat and have a place to congregate.  When the concept of an Internet Café reached him, he invited Aida O’Connor, Roger Persons and other Civ-Mil leaders to meet with him and discuss the possibility of some major financial help to launch the project.  He asked the Civ-Mil members to meet with Command Chief Master Sergeants Juan Lewis and Kevin Soltis, who had a rough draft plan and financial need calculation, and determine the feasibility of such a project.  The initial estimate was in the range of $19,000 to $20,000.  After the meeting, Aida asked Roger what his financial assessment of the program was and he estimated it to be between $35,000 and $40,000.  At the same time, the day room and an adjoining room in Building 2423 were being prepared for potential use as the Internet Cafe.

Aida, Roger, and the rest of the Civ-Mil Board decided to assist Major General Bedke by appealing for donations from citizens and organizations within the Antelope Valley.  Showing their leadership, both Aida and Roger donated $5,000 each and soon Aida talked to Frank Visco who donated $2,500.  She was also able to get an additional $2,500 from R. Rex Parris.  The campaign was now in full swing, with Ridgeview Land Company and Tri-Anim Health Services of Sylmar donating $2,500 each.  Several other companies and individuals donated between $500 and $1,000.  An article in the Antelope Valley Press also brought in a number of donations, large and small.  Very poignant donations by people, who were obviously supporters of the Military, but also people of little means, stood out.  A donation by a Littlerock couple of $5,000 and a Quartz Hill widow’s $100 gift were significant in this regard.  When the campaign was finished, $31,050 was transferred by Civ-Mil to the Mission Support and Services Wing of the 95th Air Base Wing at Edwards AFB.  There the supplies and materials used to furnish and complete the Internet Café were purchased, including televisions, game consoles, video games, a cappuccino machine, electrical fixtures, lighting, and other items

The opening of the Internet Café was announced for 0900 on July 13, 2007 by Colonel Bryan J. Gallagher, Commander of the 95th Air Base Wing.  On that day, many Antelope Valley residents and Air Force personnel attended the ribbon cutting.  Aida O’Connor and Master Sergeant Wilbert Hoffman of the 95th Mission Support and Services Squadron summed it all up by stating, ”The Higher Grounds Café provides our Airmen with a state-of-the -art facility and they can take ownership of it.  It provides them with a place to focus on their four dimensions of wellness.  Airman 1st Class Nancy Rouse also stated that in planning the Café, “the committee didn’t want it to look like an Air Force facility, but rather like a place Airmen could go and unwind.”  In retrospect, through the work of Civ-Mil and donations from many civilians in the Antelope Valley, the project was completed within less than a year from a concept by Lt. Col. Reed to fruition even though it started with no funds.  Coupled with the fact that it finished before the Great Recession of 2007, an event that probably would have doomed donations, this is an effort of which Civ-Mil, the Antelope Valley, and Edwards AFB can be justly proud.

However, this was not the end of the by-products from Operation Higher Grounds.  As a result of her leadership and efforts on this project, in particular, being involved in the founding of Civ/Mil and her leadership in many of its other projects over the years, Aida O’Connor was selected to represent the Air Force for a military-wide award, the Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award for 2007.  Major General Bedke, who had initially nominated Aida, stated, “She has been the spiritual center of {Civ-Mil} since it first began in 1989.  She is a classy and fun woman with a huge heart.  We love her for who she is, as much as for what she does.”

Lastly, on September 22, 2007, Lt. Col. Reed’s widow, Gwendolyn Reed, was present when Brigadier General Cecil Richardson, the USAF Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Major General Bedke, Colonel Bryan Gallagher, Master Sergeant Shawn Aldridge, the 95th ABW Superintendant, dedicated the Operation Higher Ground Internet Café in memory of Lt. Col. Reed.  Aida O’Connor was a special guest.  A large portrait of Reed was unveiled and hung in the Café as part of the ceremony.