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Ventura County

Thousand Oaks Gets an Honor With Altitude

Military: Air National Guard is naming firefighting planes in honor of the city and other local communities.


Sure, it's not as noticeable as having your name in lights, but Thousand Oaks receives a different sort of distinction today when its name and city seal are unveiled on a firefighting military plane.

Councilmen Dan Del Campo and Dennis Gillette, along with City Manager MaryJane Lazz and several department heads, will attend a brief afternoon ceremony at the Channel Islands Air National Guard base in Port Hueneme.

There, a C-130E Hercules, a 40-year-old warhorse with nearly 22,000 flight hours will officially be renamed The City of Thousand Oaks. The Lockheed transport recently engaged in its peacetime role as a water-dropping plane, battling the Wolf fire north of Ojai and the Copper fire near Santa Clarita.

"It's a very significant honor for the city," Gillette said. "It's a particular honor for a [former] lowly enlisted Marine to be out there with all that brass participating in this ceremony."

The dedication is part of a program the guard's 146th Airlift Wing established to honor cities around the base that many of the roughly 1,200 men and women under its command call home. Eleven full-time employees and 19 Air National Guard reservists at the base are Thousand Oaks residents.

"It's a rare opportunity that you have your name on anything outside the city limits," Del Campo said. The Thousand Oaks name is most recognizable adorning the Civic Arts Plaza-City Hall complex that faces the Ventura Freeway near California 23.

All of the cities in Ventura County have been asked for permission to use their names, and officials in Camarillo, Port Hueneme, Oxnard and Santa Paula have given formal approval. Malibu has also been approached, along with Santa Barbara, which has given the plan its blessing.

The dedication program will include presentation of a commemorative plaque by vice wing commander Col. Ed Bellion.

Maj. Mike Dugas, executive officer-community affairs and program emcee, said aircraft decoration, or "nose art," is a military tradition that peaked during World War II, when planes carried everything from macho mascots with weapons to images of pinups, such as Betty Grable. In the case of the C-130s, the name of the city and its seal or logo will be placed above a crew entrance door.

The idea of naming Air National Guard planes after nearby cities dates back several decades, said Dugas, adding that this latest effort has been warmly received.

"There's no cost and it's for all the right reasons. So we've had great response," he said.

Last week, the 146th Airlift Wing, a reserve unit of the Air Force, received delivery of the second of eight new C-130J Hercules to be added to the fleet by 2006. The new planes use less fuel than the older aircraft that were brought into service in the early 1960s and require a crew of three rather than five.

This is part of a federal effort to upgrade the nation's four firefighting air guard units. The others are in Cheyenne, Wyo.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Charlotte, N.C.

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