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Rockefeller visits 167th Airlift Wing

Senator talks with members about health benefits and Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Senator talks with members about health benefits and Veterans Affairs Medical Center

April 26, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller stood inside the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport control tower, about 127 feet above the ground, when a C-5 Galaxy cargo plane circled and prepared to land Saturday afternoon.

It was the first time Rockefeller witnessed a C-5 land on the expanding runway space at the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard.

"It was extraordinary," said Rockefeller, D-W.Va. "To be up there with the air traffic controllers and watch that thing come in ... It was something to see."

Rockefeller toured the control tower and new construction at the base in his first visit since the C-5 was introduced to the base more than a year ago, spokeswoman Jessica Tice said.

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During the stop, Rockefeller spent almost an hour behind closed doors talking with guard members before having lunch at The Runway restaurant nearby.

"It takes about an hour sitting and talking with (the guard members) to get a feel for what's going on," Rockefeller said. "You can't just sit down and break into a perfectly logical conversation. I feel a little more like a human being after talking with them."

Visiting the 167th was one of four stops for Rockefeller in the Eastern Panhandle on Saturday. From the base, he was scheduled to open local headquarters for presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

Later in the evening, Rockefeller was slated to attend and speak at a dinner at the Hedgesville (W.Va.) Volunteer Fire Company before a stop at The Arts Centre for a reception for the Contemporary American Theater Festival.

"There are some great things happening in Eastern West Virginia," Rockefeller said.

While touring the base, Rockefeller was able to pick the brains of the guard members, including Commander Col. Roger L. Nye, who was appointed in September 2007 and met the senator for the first time in that capacity.

"It was very different being the first one there to shake (Rockefeller's) hand," Nye said. "It's an honor to have any legislator here, but to have Sen. Rockefeller was great. It was a good opportunity to chat with someone who can really change things."

Nye said that during the private discussion with guard members, Rockefeller asked about the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the health benefits for guard members.

Master Sgt. Shawn Mallory said Rockefeller inquired about the guard members' thoughts on the new construction which, in its third phase, will create an additional 7,800 feet to the west end of the runway.

"(Rockefeller) wanted to know what our thoughts were on the new aircraft and the improvements happening on base," Mallory said. "He wanted to know what each one of us thought."

It was not the first time Mallory had met with Rockefeller. Mallory remembers a March 2004 visit with the senator while serving in Baghdad, during which Rockefeller vowed to contact the family members of those serving.

"He personally called my father in Waco (Texas) and just called to say, 'Thanks,'" Mallory said. "It meant a lot to my family. He was always very personable and I'm glad I got the chance to meet him again."

Rockefeller, who planned to be in Washington, D.C., by night's end, spoke briefly about the historic race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He implied hopes the May 13 West Virginia primary doesn't play a factor in deciding the party's candidate.

"I'd like to see it over at the end of North Carolina," said Rockefeller, referring to that state's May 6 primary. "I don't think this is helping the party much at all."

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