Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly mispelled Todd Suntrapak’s name.
Five community leaders from Fresno, Clovis and Sanger were inducted Sunday as honorable commanders of the Air Force’s 144th Fighter Wing as part of a program that aims to bridge the gap between military and civilian life.
All five – Todd Suntrapak, president and CEO of Valley Children’s Hospital; Janet Young, Clovis Unified superintendent; Mathew Navo, Sanger Unified superintendent; Chris Pacheco, One Putt Broadcasting owner; and Tim Patendis, president of Alena Foods – accepted their honorary places in five squadrons, from medical to aircraft maintenance.
About 30 people, family and friends of the honorary commanders, attended the ceremony at the Fresno Air National Guard Base on McKinley Avenue. The five civic leaders were awarded with a certificate and small trophy, and will serve until 2019.
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Maj. Jennifer Piggot, the chief of public affairs for the 144th Fighter Wing, said the Honorary Commanders program was a first for the base. Although it’s a nationwide program for the Air Force, these first five inductees were the beginning of something she hopes will continue uniting civilians and the military.
Honorary commanders will shadow their specific squadron commanders and will be invited to various events throughout the year.
“It allows the leaders to have a really focused, in-depth look at what we’re doing in the military,” Piggot said. “Oftentimes, the military walls are up and the civilians can’t access the base. There’s not always a lot of familiarity in what we do, so programs like this help bridge that gap.”
Young said it was an event she will always remember.
“When I rounded the corner (to see the planes), it took my breath away. I’ve grown up here and always dreamed about what’s inside,” she said about coming on to the base.
Col. Reed Drake, the fighter wing’s commander, said he hopes the program will help foster lifelong friendships.
“It’s meant to increase military involvement in civic endeavors,” said Drake, who added he also hopes it will be fun for the participants.
All five inductees said they were humbled to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Young said she hopes the children at Clovis Unified will embrace military values because she is appreciative of how the military has shaped the country.
“This,” she said, “is one of the greatest days of my life.”