Tuesday, March 23, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Jack Hindeman works with copper wire set
for recycling at Hickam.

Hickam wins
top honor,

The base is rightfully named
the Air Force's best because of
its people, its chief says

By Gregg Kakesako


HICKAM Air Force Base has earned the right of being called the best Air Force installation in the world.

And its boss, Col. Ann Testa, believes the award was given because airmen, civilians, dependents and reservists at the 16,500-member installation thought of innovative ways to improve living and working conditions at Hickam.

With the distinction of receiving the prestigious Commander In Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence comes a $500,000 cash prize. Testa, commander of the 15th Air Base Wing, has earmarked some of the money to upgrade the installation's four indoor racquetball courts, buy more playground equipment, rebuild and expand the base's one-lane track and improve Hickam's 2,649 housing and 1,243 dormitory units.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Troy Meier puts together a Spiderman toy with son
Logan at Hickam. The kitchen behind him is new.

Testa's unit beat out Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and Lajes Field in the Azores of Portugal, among the Air Force's 80 bases. The contest has been held since 1985. This is the first time Hickam has won.

Testa, who will leave as wing commander this summer after two years here, attributed Hickam's sense of pride and its realization of its strategic location in the Pacific as reasons for the achievement.

"People now understand their wartime mission," Testa said.

"For a long time, people on this installation didn't understand where they stood ... and this has led to a new sense of energy as they look for a better way to do business."

Testa said wing members found new ways to enhance the base's mission while improving services, facilities and the quality of life there.

But the 24-year Air Force veteran also came up with innovations.

One of the crowning achievements was the renovation of 1,753 kitchens and bathrooms in Hickam housing using volunteers. Such a job would have cost the Air Force $10,000 a unit if Hickam officials had used customary contracting methods, and might have taken years to complete.

However, after reading about a campaign in which volunteers pooled their resources to make a difference, Testa decided to apply that thought to solving Hickam's housing problem.

So Hickam's "Family Helping Families" program was born. Some 350 volunteers gave up a weekend to help their neighbors rebuild kitchens and bathrooms by laying tile, hanging cabinets, installing sinks and painting.

Under Testa's program, Hickam supplies the major materials, and a master craftsman oversees the project. Airmen and their families supply the sweat and the manpower. Testa herself has become an expert in laying bathroom tile.

Staff Sgt. Troy Meier, an intelligence specialist, had his three-bedroom townhouse upgraded in such a manner and is pleased with the work.

"We only had to supply a little touch-up paint at the end, and some pizzas and a cooler of sodas," said Diana Meier.

Hickam's recycling center, which recovers 190 to 250 tons of glass, newspapers, paper, plastics, aluminum cans and cardboard each month, also was cited as a plus.

Jack Hindman, the recycling manager, said that when he arrived from March Air Force Base in 1986, Hickam was recovering 40 to 50 tons a year. It now recycles 2,700 tons each year.

"Other Air Force bases don't have this type of equipment," Hindman said, noting that three years ago, Hickam officials decided to purchase recycling machinery valued at more than $300,000.

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