EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — For many years Edwards Air Force Base has valued the support of the local community. One of the ways the base stays connected with the surrounding communities is through the Honorary Commanders Program. Each year, community leaders are inducted as honorary commanders and paired with group and squadron commanders at Edwards. Throughout the year the honorary commanders are invited to join their base commander counterparts for tours of the Edwards.
Honorary commanders participate as volunteers at their own expense.
Honorary commander Gary Chapman, retired Pratt & Whitney employee, is paired with the commander of the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 1. At the start of the honorary commanders term, that commander was Col. Mark Hoelscher who is now at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Chapman is looking forward to meeting his new commander, Col. Steven Ross.
To date, Chapman’s favorite honorary commander’s moment was sitting in the cockpit of an F-16 and later learning how to fly it in the simulator.
“The collaboration with Edwards and the surrounding community is impressive. I have learned an extraordinary amount every time we visit. It makes me proud to be a veteran and grateful to have a chance to learn more about Edwards,” said Chapman.
Chapman served in the United States Army for three years with one tour in Vietnam. He received a Purple Heart for a gunshot wound and numerous Air Medals, one with a “V” device for valor, as a door gunner on a gunship helicopter. Later on, he worked in the Space Shuttle Main Engine program and was involved with the Veterans Task Force and honor guard.
He retired from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2008 after 26 years with the company.
In 2006, Chapman founded the “Operation Welcome Home” Veteran’s Day Parade, which raised over $10,000 that was donated to the William J. Pete Knight Veterans Home in Lancaster, California.
“[It] was the first Veterans Day Parade in the Antelope Valley and the first time many Vietnam Vets were finally welcomed home. Walking on rose petals down Lancaster Blvd., there were few dry eyes at the beginning of this healing parade,” recalled Chapman.
In 2009 he used his experience from the first parade to help organize the Antelope Valley Veterans Day Parade. As the owner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, he continues to ride with the Patriot Guard during “welcome home” events for Soldiers returning home and for the departed. He is also the commissioner for the Los Angeles Veterans Advisory Commission.