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COLUMN

Community Voice: Master sergeant's first visit to Fort Wayne was like a welcome home

Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 9:24 am

Editor's note: Jason Higgins, an Air Force master sergeant with a firefighting unit in Afghanistan, recently visited Fort Wayne for the first time to meet the staff at a motorcycle custom shop that has done business with him and befriended his unit. The reception he received on his two-week visit moved him to thank the crew at Bad Dad Custom Motorcycle Finishes and the entire community.

I want to share the story of an extraordinary bunch of people in Fort Wayne and the difference they made in lives of 37 Air Force personnel deployed to Afghanistan.

It began when I contacted Derk Hinsey of Bad Dad Custom Motorcycle Finishes to commission a paint job for my motorcycle back in 2002. It was then that I learned there was so much more to this company than just taking your money and handing you a product. They take great pride in providing the highest-quality product and ensuring complete customer satisfaction. Through the years, I remained in contact with Hinsey and subsequently developed a lasting friendship.

Before my deployment last March, I decided my motorcycle needed a revised look. As I readied for deployment, the bike was disassembled, and the parts were mailed off for their new makeover.

From the very beginning of our deployment, the folks at Bad Dad were amazing! The tenacious attention to detail was there as usual but they kicked it up a notch with their unabashed concern for our need of comfort items at our Forward Operating Base (FOB).

During our six-month tour, the crew at Bad Dad displayed a genuine interest in the happenings of our daily lives. Through the many emails and photos, we were able to share with them the joys of the items they had sent as well as some of the hardships we endured.

The highlight was when we received boxes bearing various Bad Dad apparel items. This enabled us to take a stress-free (as much as it can be at an FOB) day, have an amazing time taking photos and be able to have some semblance of normalcy. They always took time to let us know how much our efforts were appreciated at home and how they were touched by seeing our appreciation.

Toward the end of the tour, a member of Bad Dad asked if I would be interested in coming to Fort Wayne to visit their shop so they could meet me in person. I let them know how much I appreciated the offer and accepted with enthusiasm.

The minute I arrived in Fort Wayne, it was a whirlwind affair. I was greeted at the airport by Hinsey, who gave me a shop shirt emblazoned with my name. He then took me into his home and allowed me to share in his life. His family showed me hospitality and made me feel welcome.

Hinsey then made sure time was allotted at his bustling shop to ensure I could spend time with each of his team members. It allowed me to personally thank each of them, observe their daily functions and show my appreciation for the things they accomplish. They had always made us feel as if we were a part of the shop, and this was again no exception. My visit allowed me to see these folks making an outstanding product, backing it with an old-school sense of customer satisfaction and commitment.

I also discovered just how many organizations Bad Dad supports without any need for recognition. One group it supports is the Semper Fi fund, showing again their selfless devotion to the military community.

It is clear that the heartfelt support we received from Bad Dad seemed to be an extension of the feelings that folks in Fort Wayne have for military personnel. I was enveloped by a population that has given me what I would consider to be a hero's welcome for the small role played in the war on terror. I was invited to a wedding at American Legion Post 409 in Leo, and they considered me to be an honored guest. At every turn someone graciously thanked me for my service.

My visit to Fort Wayne emphasizes why Americans choose to serve and fight in the world's best military. In my 15 years of service, I have never been anywhere that showed such a warm welcome to people serving in the military or just visiting. I thank all for your support, because without it the United States would not be the great nation it is.

Thank you,

Master Sgt. Jason Higgins, U.S. Air Force

Assistant Chief, Fire Emergency Services