President’s Blog:

For Those Who Serve

I’ve discovered some similarities between Monterey, California and Oklahoma City—and some surprising connections between the military and art.

I have had the good fortune to live and work in two military towns—Monterey, California and, now, Oklahoma City. Monterey is a small seaside town whose economy was historically centered around fishing—initially whaling and later sardines—while our forefathers developed a bustling city in the heart of the prairie based on the volatile fortunes of cattle, oil, and natural gas.

The military presence in these two communities is also dissimilar. Monterey was the home of Fort Ord—established in 1917 and closed in 1994—which, in its heyday, was the army’s primary basic training facility.


Fort Ord

Today, Monterey is home to the Defense Language Institute, which provides foreign language instruction to more than 3,500 members of the Armed Forces, and the Naval Postgraduate School—an elite graduate school for commissioned naval officers.

naval postgraduate school

Naval Postgraduate School

Here, we have Tinker Air Force Base, home to critical Department of Defense, Air Force, and Navy national defense missions. Tinker is where aircraft come for scheduled maintenance. On a scale that defies imagination, these aircraft are taken apart and put back together again. More than 20,000 civilians are employed at Tinker, making it the largest employer in our state.

Recently, I was invited to participate in the Air Force’s COMMSTAR program, whose mission is to “increase awareness, understanding, and cooperation while fostering essential relationships between Tinker’s senior leadership and community/government leaders throughout central Oklahoma.” At the recent induction ceremony, I met my COMMSTAR partner, Lt Col Brian Chellgren, Commander, 349 Recruiting Squadron. As I attend more events at Tinker, I’ll be sharing what I learn.

Lt Col Brian C. Chellgren and Michael Whittington

For instance, I was surprised to learn of our landlocked city’s long relationship with the US Navy and that we have had a namesake vessel dating back to WWII. The latest incarnation is nuclear submarine, the USS Oklahoma City. In December, I accepted the invitation of City Council Chief of Staff Debi Martin to visit San Diego to attend the Change of Command Ceremony aboard our namesake boat. I was honored to be part of this delegation led by Vice Mayor David Greenwell, Debi Martin, and Robin Syba of the Oklahoma City Navy League.

The change of command is both a solemn and joyous occasion. Outgoing Commander Andy Petersen relinquished the boat to incoming Commander Mike Conner. Afterward, Captain of the Boat Joey Hundley gave us a tour of the submarine. That evening, we attended a dinner hosted by Cmdr. Petersen, and as I was chatting with one officer, he shared with me how much he loved Italian art. When his son—an avid artist—joined in the conversation, the three of us had a lively discussion as to which was the better painting on the subject of “Judith Slaying Halofernes”—the work by Caravaggio or Artemisia Gentileschi. Wow!

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While I was happy to be back in California, I was even prouder to be from Oklahoma City.


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