During the recent Youngstown State University English Festival, many volunteer speakers interacted with the student attendees, grades 7 through 12. I had the opportunity to introduce a special guest during sessions of students at the festival.
Lt. Col. John Boccieri of the 910th Tactical Air Wing discussed the wonders of flight, the J-3 airplane (the military version of the Piper Cub), and life choices with groups of students who had read the book, ''Dead End in Norvelt,'' which is a humorous, partly autobiographical work by Jack Gantos. A subplot of the novel includes references to the J-3, and so the Festival Committee reached out to Air Wing public affairs officer Eric White to engage a speaker.
Boccieri volunteered to read the book and lead spirited discussions with the young readers. Early in his presentations, he revealed that he himself had attended the festival as a young student.
In the moments following his dynamic presentations, I had a chance to converse with this former member of the U.S. House of Representatives about the future of the U.S. Air Force Station in Vienna. His advice was very simple and direct. He urged the citizens of this region to write letters to members of Congress, especially U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, to voice support for this military mission in our area. I think House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio should also be reading letters from us, and maybe Nancy Pelosi, too.
In the past month, a proposed reduction in the size of the air station has become a reality; four more of the giant C-130s have been re-assigned. A Tribune Chronicle editorial addressed the impact of this reduction on the whole area. Now, we read that the station is busy preparing for its ''Thunder Over The Valley'' air show on May 17-18, with ''no charge to attend.''
Permit me some nostalgia. I recall from my youth how exciting a trip to the Vienna air station was. Because those were different times, the station was far more open and accessible than it is today. We could watch flight after flight of the sleek F-102 ''Delta Daggers'' take off and land.
Even when we could not drive to the station, their presence in the skies above us was punctuated by the sonic booms their speeds produced. Windows in our houses would rattle, and baseball games would be interrupted because we would look up in awe and amazement at a squadron of fighter aircraft.
Their presence made us feel both protected and proud. The station's outer tower was located in a corner of Hubbard Township, so we could see aircraft of all kinds making graceful arcs in a final approach.
Those are nice memories, but today's reality must urge us to action not reminiscence.
If we can all send letters and messages to leaders in the federal government, the outpouring of support for our air base can make a difference to its continued presence. The powerful people in Washington might not respond to or be moved by my letter alone; however, the reception of many hundreds of letters and communications could stir our leaders to action. We can do this.
Conveniently, the Tribune gives us the addresses and contact information for our legislators, both state and federal, weekly. I urge you to clip those addresses and write a meaningful letter to one or all of them regarding this local source of jobs, this source of pride, and this source of safety for the citizens of our area and beyond.
It is our air station, too. Let us work together to keep it here.
If you do not feel confident in your writing skills, I offer you this to use as a starting point:
''The Youngstown Air Reserve Station (910 AW) is an important part of our region's viability and future. I ask that you do all in your power to maintain this vital military presence at the air station in Vienna, Ohio.
''You are well aware of the recent cuts to the mission of the 910 AW. These cuts affect us in so many ways.'' Add your own reasons or examples and send it.
Williams is a Hubbard resident.