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Air Force Base Rolls Out Red Carpet for Hammon
By Tech. Sgt. D. E. Manuszewski Jr., Black Hills Bandit Staff, 02/15/02

The Air Force's lead bomb wing and the people who were deployed in the early stages of America's war on terrorism played host to a member of the WNBA's New York Liberty on Feb. 13, and all indications are that Ellsworth Air Force Base has a new number one fan.

Becky Hammon, a three-year guard with the Liberty who calls the base's sister city -- Rapid City, South Dakota -- home, visited the base with her family to meet and learn more about the military professionals stationed near her home. Before the tour, Miss Hammon said she didn't realize everything that happened on an Air Force base.

"It was very different from what I imagined ... it was a lot bigger and broader than I thought," said the 5-foot-6 South Dakotan who played college basketball for Colorado State University from 1995-1999. "I really enjoyed meeting and talking with our military members, as well as seeing the teamwork that they rely on in everyday situations and in the life or death situations they may encounter during war or other operations."

As a player in New York, Miss Hammon has had the opportunity to visit Ground Zero. She said that she has a friend that's a captain with the New York Police Department and they took her there about two and a half weeks after the terrorist attacks.

"It was very heart wrenching to see the destruction," she said. "But what's even more heart wrenching is seeing the children and families that have been affected so greatly. I try and do as much volunteer work with them as I can, and it really breaks my heart to see their pain."

She added that the other aspect of Ground Zero is all of the volunteer work, and the fantastic teamwork that's being displayed by the firefighters and members of the NYPD.

With that in mind, two of the must stops of the Feb. 13 tour were to meet the base's firefighters and the security forces personnel. The military and civilian firefighters assigned to the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire, Crash and Rescue Station gave her a tour of the base's new $7.3 million facility and then treated her to a ride in the Air Force's newest piece of firefighting equipment, the Jaguar. The "jag," as the fire fighters refer to it, is designed specifically for rapid deployment anywhere in the world and can literally be driven off a cargo jet and used to start fighting fires immediately.

While visiting with members of the 28th Security Forces Squadron, Miss Hammon got a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to operate and maintain the base's military working dog section, and was given a demonstration of exactly what "man's best friend" can do for a human partner.

Brian, a four-year old German Sheperd military working dog at the base, and his partner Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Jessen, showed her why he's one of the top working dogs in the county during a run through the obedience course, the obstacle course and that his bite is as bad as his bark.

Miss Hammon was given the chance to put on an arm restraint and Brian grabbed with all his might as she tried to free her arm from his gripping mouth.

"The highlight of the tour was getting attacked by the dog. Weird, I know, but I thought that was really cool. I love dogs, and the K-9 unit was impressive," she said.

After "attacking" her, Brian showed Miss Hammon some of the skills other dogs used in New York also possess by tracking and locating a "person" represented by a set of hidden keys in a field.

Miss Hammon also got an up-close, hands-on tour of one of Ellsworth's 26 B-1 bombers, known affectionately by those associated with it as the "Bone." Ellsworth's B-1s are being touted as the workhorses in the air campaign of Operation Enduring Freedom, where they have delivered crippling blows against terrorist strongholds and facilities since the first night of bombing.

After sitting in and standing by the bomber, Miss Hammon said she now knows why the B-1 has been called the "Monster Truck" of America's bomber force. As an added bonus and to show her firsthand the skills needed to maneuver the only American bomber capable of going faster than the speed of sound, members of the base's 37th Bomb Squadron put her through the paces aboard the bases' B-1 flight simulator.

"The flight simulator was pretty amazing. I'm glad that I'll never have to land a B-1, it wasn't pretty," she said referring to her zigzag approach to the runway.

But above all, Miss Hammon said that it was the people she met on the tour that have left her with the most lasting impression.

"I was extremely impressed with everyone that I met on the tour," she said. "They were very polite, and intelligent people. I feel extremely safe with these men and women around!"

Miss Hammon wrapped up her visit to Ellsworth with an autograph and picture session with many of the base's children and families. And it was to Ellsworth's families for whom she had a final message.

"I feel extremely proud of all our service men and women, but the people in the 28th Bomb Wing are closer to home though, since they're right in my back yard," she said. "I wish everyone's families' comfort while their loved ones are away protecting us and the rest of the world."