WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) --
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Dayton community displayed their mutual support and pride for each other on and off the court the week of March 13 amidst the Big Hoopla festivities, culminating in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament First Four.
This year marked the ninth year University of Dayton Arena hosted the games that determine which four programs finish filling in the 64-team bracket, and the Big Hoopla festivities leading up to the tournament have become a tradition in their own right.
Throughout the week, Airmen and leadership participated in a 4-mile race, a downtown festival and a youth science, technology, engineering and math challenge before adding camouflage to the national matchups in one of America’s favorite sporting events.
“It was exciting for not only me personally, but for all of our Airmen and families to be a part of the Big Hoopla and First Four games last week,” said Col. Patrick Miller, 88th Air Base Wing commander. “Our 30K-plus Airmen stationed here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are privileged and proud to call the Dayton community home. It is a place where our Airmen and their families are supported and welcomed by friends, neighbors and businesses alike. The support we receive from this area is truly unlike any other.”
Air Force leaders began the week enjoying food, games, music and entertainment with Dayton community members at the Big Hoopla Family Festival on March 13.
That same day, local kids gathered at Dayton Convention Center to manufacture model planes, play with physics and chemistry, and shoot hoops and chat with Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander, uniting the power of STEM education, the energy of college basketball, and the patriotism for the community and country into the younger population.
Some children who attended the Big Hoopla STEM Challenge participated in a shoot-off during halftime of the March 15 game between Texas Southern and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Miller helped with rebounding duties during the competition, alongside other Dayton community leaders.
Master Sgt. Christin Foley, a recently deployed vocalist for the Air Force Band of Flight, sang the national anthem before Tuesday’s First Four games while the Wright-Patterson AFB Honor Guard and volunteer Airmen presented the flag.
“I always get excited to sing, but I’m especially excited to sing the anthem here,” Foley said. “I grew up in Ohio, so getting to do this in Dayton at the first game is meaningful to me. When the crowd hears the anthem and they’re standing and singing along, or sometimes it’s just very silent, it’s a really moving moment with honors to our flag, anthem and country.”
March 16 brought even bigger collaborations between the city and Air Force. After Band of Flight alumnus Felita LaRock sang the national anthem, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. swore in 24 Air Force and Space Force recruits during halftime of the game between Wright State and Bryant.
“It’s an honor and pleasure to be here with you this evening as we kick off March Madness with the First Four,” Brown said. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to the city of Dayton for providing support for our Airmen and families who are stationed here at Wright-Patterson. I am so honored to be here tonight representing the civilian, active duty and Reservist Airmen who serve in our United States Air Force.
“This year, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Air Force in 1947. I am so excited that tonight I get to administer the oath to these new Airmen, joining them into an Air Force whose mission is to fly, fight and win—airpower anytime, anywhere.”
Basketball fans, many of them local Wright State supporters, helped welcome the newest Airmen and Guardians, chanting “USA” as Brown, Bunch, retired Gen. Lester Lyles, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and other Air Force, city and state leaders shook each recruit’s hand.
“Wright-Patterson is really rooted into Dayton, and it is such a community feel with the base, and then with the partnership we have throughout the city, it’s just a wonderful moment of celebration for us to have this week together,” Foley said. “I returned from oversees right in the surge of COVID, and I think that’s another part of this, too — after going through something together that was so impactful and devastating, this is our step forward.”
The base will continue festivities in the community as the Air Force reaches three-quarters of a century accomplishing its mission.
“This year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Air Force and the Department of the Air Force, providing a unique opportunity to highlight the countless contributions of our total force Airmen, both past and present, who have fought for and defended our nation in air and space,” Miller said.
“Attendees of the First Four games got to help celebrate the Air Force as they witnessed a swearing-in ceremony of future Airmen and Guardians. We invite the community to join us in celebrating our anniversary and our Airmen throughout the coming year.”
The celebration culminates at the 26th Air Force Marathon on Sept. 17.