Plans in place to spend $1 million IEA winnings

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Thirty-one active-duty service members, U.S. and German national civilian employees, and family members from here went to Washington, D.C., May 2-6 to receive the Commander-In Chief's Installation Excellence and Special Recognition Award.

It was during this trip that Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton awarded Col. Christopher Weggeman, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, $1 million to spend on quality of life projects.

The wing's leadership asked the base populace what sorts of projects the money should be spent on if the base won this award, and the response was overwhelming. More than 50 ideas were submitted but had to be pared down. Now the wing commander has a list of 10 projects that are going to be funded with the IEA money.

"We are prioritizing the money in line with what they asked for the most," Colonel Weggeman said. "A lot of people will potentially be disappointed their specific idea didn't make it, but again, we had [more than] 50 ideas and only $1 million. We had to apply a democratic process of majority rules."

He also wanted to ensure the money was spread around and touched as many Sabers as possible.

"Some of the ideas cost more than the $1 million we got," Colonel Weggeman said. "We prioritized ... and built a list of the top 15 inputs that were feasible using all the inputs we got from the Airmen."

The number one quality of life issue on the list was refurbishing the theater. The second item on the list was establishing a "Kid's Zone" on base. The list of IEA projects to be funded also includes a full upgrade of the chapel's kitchen, a paved walking/biking trail around housing, upgrading the women's locker room showers, upgrading family picnic areas base wide, purchasing new Christmas tree lighting, purchasing library media, purchasing more equipment for the Combat Fitness Center, and installing the IEA sign at the front gate.

The movie theater will receive updated décor and new seating, and the wing is working with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service to upgrade the building's sound and lighting.

"That's the biggest single expenditure of all the projects," Colonel Weggeman said.

The "Kid's Zone" is going to be built in the bowling center.

"We are combining [the Kid's Zone] with some [non-appropriated fund] projects, which will allow us to have some efficiencies in the operation of the bowling center. Plus we have a couple extra lanes, believe it or not, and that is how we're going to find the square footage to put it in there," the colonel said.

This "Kid's Zone" is a bridge-plan project. The final desired end-state is to create a larger facility in the Spangdahlem Middle School building once the new school has been constructed.

"There is still a little bit of money left over, and we're going to have one more session to figure out the best way to spend it. We may actually sprinkle this money into some of the current projects to improve their value to the community," he said.

Most of these projects are in the bidding process right now, and construction should begin the middle to the end of summer. Many will be done under Saber contracts, which mean they can be done internally and fairly quickly.

"Some of them will be done as soon as fall and some of them will take up to nine months to complete," Colonel Weggeman said.

The wing commander has directed the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron to put signs up at every project that is being funded with IEA money so people can see where the money is being spent.

Colonel Weggeman's primary advisors who guided him through the suggestion vetting process were the 52nd Mission Support Group and 52nd CES commanders, and 52nd Contracting Squadron representatives. The guidance he gave for identifying which projects to fund was simple: he wanted to touch as many Sabers as he could with the money, and he didn't want to spend it all on one thing.

These advisors made sure the projects Colonel Weggeman wanted to fund were allowable expenditures of appropriated funds and feasible in terms of physical and construction requirements. They also looked at scope of work and costs. An example of a suggestion that was not feasible was the scholarship fund request.

"When that went through our functional review our programmers, they said it's very difficult to spend appropriated funds on a scholarship fund. So that one sort of fell out on a technicality," he said.

After talking about spending this money on quality of life projects for five months, the colonel said it feels great to finally start spending it.

"We talk a lot about wing pride, but to me this is kind of the IEA capstone moment - spending the money for our Sabers," he said. "I feel a surge of pride for the wing and what they accomplished because it's tangible and real.

"We're not putting a pinky to our mouth and talking about $1 million anymore. Now we're getting out our hammers and shovels and saws and putting $1 million into quality of life for our Saber Airmen so I'm very proud of what's going on. It's real."

The colonel wants everyone to remember the IEA competition isn't ultimately about brick and mortar, square footage or landscaping, but a testament to the human spirit of those who serve.

"It is outstanding Airmen that make an outstanding installation! So as much as we're starting to see the material rewards of the $1 million, we should never lose sight of our ingenuity, our teamwork and sense of family that is truly what won this award for all of us."

Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz announced Spangdahlem AB had been selected as the 2011 Installation Excellence Award winner Feb. 15.

According to Air Force Instruction 36-2831, the CINC's Annual Awards for Installation Excellence is awarded to Department of Defense installations that have done the best with their resources to support the mission. Each of the military services has an IEA recipient.