Locals send big 'thank you' to Offutt Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Peter R.O. Danielson
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Every year, a message appears in local fields near Offutt Air Force Base for Airmen to read as they fly overhead.

Although the fields are covered by snow for most of the winter and filled with soybeans for the majority of the summer, the message is written to make sure Offutt AFB Airmen know the men and women of Bellevue are behind them.

This year, the message reads "You Make America Proud!" Previous years have read "Thank you for Freedom!"

Two fields are used to communicate these thank-you notes. One is located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and Nebraska Highway 370, and the other is located at Fort Crook Road east of Offutt AFB. Both fields belong to local farmers who allow Chris Shotten to show his appreciation to Offutt AFB's population.

As a manager of a superstore in Council Bluffs in 2001, Mr. Shotten knew he wanted to do something special for his military neighbors. He proposed that the chain share words of encouragement to the troops. The question was how to deliver those words.

Mr. Shotten proposed plowing a message in a soybean field so planes flying into Offutt AFB will be able to read it.

"It'll only work in a bean field," Mr. Shotten said. "The letters will show up clearly almost to space when you till up the dark earth underneath."

After the fall harvest, a new message is selected by the store associates based on its impact and brevity. Each worker gets a vote on what will be written in the mile-long note to Airmen above.

Previous experience with surveying equipment makes the task easier, but not much less daunting, he said.

A dozen volunteers from the Bellevue store and the community go into the field with 500 stakes and 3,500 pounds of flour to mark out lines.

"It's hard to tell where you're supposed to be at times," Mr. Shotten said. "You can be on one side of the white line, and that could be any part of your 300-foot-high letter."

Once a mistake is made, there's no going back.

"I might as well offer to plow the whole field if I mess up once," he said.

Regardless of the pressure he feels to honor the military properly, Mr. Shotten is glad to undertake this work each year.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "There's a lot of pride that we all feel in what we do. We wouldn't be the same without Offutt."

The same could be said for the Bellevue community.

"Team Offutt is grateful to Mr. Shotten for his thank-you message," said Brig. Gen. Donald Bacon, the 55th Wing commander. "Our aircrews see this every day. This being my family's third assignment to Offutt, I find this very indicative of how this wonderful Bellevue community makes our military members feel welcome."