Welcoming picnic honors military

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Capt. Timothy Jeffries has been at Cannon Air Force Base only three weeks, but he already likes the community of Portales — especially a welcome picnic put on Saturday for the airmen by the Portales community.
“I’ve not been to one of these before,” Jeffries said. “It’s a wonderful thing, it’s nice to see the community supporting what we do. It’s definitely something new.”
Becci Jeffries said that from what she’s seen so far, Portales looks like it will be a good place to raise their two children in a community that supports the military — one quite different from some other places she has lived.
While the Jeffries are new to Cannon, Master Sgt. Scott Kottke and his wife, Tech. Sgt. Dawn Kottke, both said they appreciate the small-town atmosphere at Portales after several years at Cannon and 14 years as a dual-career Air Force couple.
“We like it here because we know our children are safe; our children can go down the community center and play and we don’t have to worry about them,” Dawn Kottke said. “We’re all-around pleased, we love it here.”
Capt. Geoff Romanowicz and his wife have only one child who is too young to be away from home much, but for them, Portales’ attractions include a small-town feel to which he can come home after flying F-16 fighters.
“What we both liked about Portales is the town square has an old-town atmosphere; it’s more cozy and friendly,” Romanowicz said. “I think it’s great. A lot of places in this country, they wouldn’t have a community so supportive of the Air Force. That definitely is a positive in our experience.”
Making memories like that is a major part of why Kim Huffman, a retired Air Force colonel who now serves as executive director of the Portales Chamber of Commerce, began the welcome picnic, which he hopes will become an annual tradition.
“A lot of (airmen) are new in the community, because it’s the end of summer and that’s when a lot of the military moves occur,” Huffman said. “They’re welcome here; we’re glad they’re in our community, and here’s a way to show what we have to offer them.”
Saturday’s event served up free hot dogs, hamburgers, drinks, and live music for more than three hours to the airmen living in an off-base housing complex in Portales, but also provided brochures and lists of community services. Huffman said many of the newly arriving service members don’t yet know where to buy things and what they can do in the community, and events like the Saturday picnic can help them learn about their new home.
Most airmen will be moved by the Air Force after only about three years at Cannon, but Huffman is one of many Portales residents who chose to retire in the area — an option he hopes more service members use.
After 30 years in the Air Force, the military would have paid to move Huffman to any city in the United States where he chose to retire, but Huffman said he didn’t want to move.
“I told them I just wanted to stay here,” Huffman said. “Let them take that money and put it into another bomb and go drop it on Iraq.”