The Air Bridge: Connecting to civic neighbors

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Bernal Del Agua
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
(This story is part of a series to highlight McConnell AFB honorary commanders and their impact on the base and the community.)

Editor’s Note: The Honorary Commander Program is designed to bring the base closer to our civilian counterparts in Wichita and the surrounding communities. Honorary commanders can be doctors, business owners, mayors, professors, police chiefs or others who are well respected in their fields and communities. The ultimate goal of all of this is to inform and educate the local community about McConnell. The honorary commanders help spread the word about all the great things happening here.

Andrew Nelson, Chick-fil-A owner and operator, is an honorary commander who has partnered with Col. Grant Izzi, 22nd Maintenance Group commander, to help connect the community to the Airmen of McConnell. During the Derby North Middle School opening, Nelson told Col. Matthew Benivegna, former 22nd Mission Support Group commander, that if there was anything he could do to serve the military he would do it gladly and was consequently made an honorary commander.

“I grew up as a military brat,” said Nelson. “My mom was in the Coast Guard for 21 years and my dad served in the Navy. I have never served myself and I wanted to take the platform that I have been trusted with by the brand of Chick-fil-A and have an impact in the community.”

Izzi said that Nelson has helped make their union a true partnership between the community and the maintenance group, and he couldn't ask for a better ‘co-commander.’

“Although the purpose of the Honorary Commander program is more geared to inform and educate the civilian community, we have both benefited,” said Izzi. “For example, it was Andrew's idea to have supervisors from both our organizations come together to share the experiences and challenges of leadership and supervision.”

The leaders came together and Nelson’s directors learned why McConnell is the home of air refueling and how the maintainers keep the mission going nonstop. They also talked about how they handle discipline, insubordination, attention to detail and how to work with a younger workforce.

“Seeing them learn more about the military was the point,” said Nelson. “As honorary commanders, it is our job to educate the community on what it is you do every single day because you are the ones who essentially make things happen. I was afforded the opportunity to show others what goes on behind the fences and I didn’t want to take that for granted.”

Nelson attributes his desire to help the maintenance group and the base as a whole to the leadership lessons he’s learned from being a Chick-fil-A owner. Their motto of “restoring customers physically through food and emotionally through service” drives him to offer what he can to both the community and McConnell.