'Pulling together for something we all believe in'
When federal officials eyed closing Tinker Air Force Base in 1993, 1995 and 2005, reaction from the community was swift.
Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Burpee, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, fought to keep Tinker open all three times.
In 1993, Tinker first landed on the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission's list of possible closure sites.
The inclusion of Tinker on the list the first time around caught community leaders completely off guard, Burpee said.
"It was a total surprise," he said. "The BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commision) was something that was being talked about, but nobody ever thought Tinker would be affected. We saw it on the evening news."
At the behest of then-U.S. Sen. David Boren, Burpee flew to Washington, D.C., the next day to meet with Oklahoma's congressional delegation. Burpee and other community leaders only had about 30 days to come up with a persuasive case to keep federal officials from closing Tinker.
The community also rallied around the cause.
South Oklahoma City businessman John Conner organized an event called "Hands Around Tinker" in 1993 where people joined hands to form a human chain around parts of the base on the day Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission officials visited for a tour.
"I don't know if it's about saving Tinker so much as it's about pulling together for something we all believe in," said Master Sgt. John Oster, who participated in the human chain with his family at the time.
The Del City Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign to collect 23,500 signatures to present to Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission officials — the population of Del City at the time. Local businesses, too, posted signature sheets for patrons to sign in support of keeping Tinker open.
"We're doing this because a lot of people just don't realize how close our tie is to Tinker, how important we are to each other," Chamber Chairman Bill Lawrence told The Oklahoman in 1993.
Tinker narrowly dodged closure again in 1995 when the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission chose closing Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio over Tinker.
At the 1995 BRAC hearings, Burpee testified after Texas heavyweights including then-Gov. George W. Bush, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Sen. Phil Gramm argued in support of Kelly.
"It was really close between Kelly and Tinker; we had an uphill battle," Burpee said. "I made the pitch that Tinker was far more productive than Kelly."
The argument apparently worked, and Tinker survived another round.
In 2002, Oklahoma County voters passed a bond issue worth up to $50 million to clear houses from encroaching the base and to provide increased security to Tinker in order to improve the base's rating with the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and better protect it from future rounds of base closures.
About 108 houses and part of a car dealership were cleared in order to better secure Tinker's main runway.
In 2005, Tinker was again spared in another round of base closures.
Today, Burpee is pleased Tinker remains a vital part of the Oklahoma City metro area's economy and a major employer.
"It would have been devastating to the city if it had closed, and I think Midwest City and Del City would have really been hurt," he said.