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F-35 showing off weapons bay under a deep blue sky

Luke Forward received Westmarc’s Special 20th Anniversary Best of the West Award for championing one of the West Valley’s biggest accomplishments — Luke Air Force Base landing the F-35 training center.

The region’s biggest awards were given during a banquet Thursday at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel attended by about 500. Westmarc, a coalition of business, government, education and community-group leaders that lobbies on behalf of the West Valley, launched the awards program two decades ago to promote outstanding contributions to the West Valley.

“The Luke Forward award was designed as a distinct honor for Luke Forward’s successful efforts to make the F-35 mission at Luke Air Force base a reality,” said Michelle Rider, president and chief executive of Westmarc. “The Best of the West event is a perfect fit to honor this group that has made such a significant impact in the West Valley.”

Luke Forward co-chairs Elaine Scruggs and Charley Freericks received the award on behalf of the group.

Creating the campaign

The West Valley has rallied around the men and women of Luke Air Force Base since its inception in 1941. In 2009, Luke Forward was launched as a broad public campaign to secure the F-35, the fighter jet expected to eventually replace existing aircraft, at Luke.

The Luke Forward campaign was launched by the West Valley Partners (Maricopa County and the cities and towns within the county west of Interstate17) and Fighter Country Partnership to generate awareness and support of the positive impacts the F-35 will bring to Arizona.

The goal was to show decision makers in Washington, D.C., that Arizona strongly supports Luke Air Force Base continuing to serve as the nation’s premier fighter-pilot training facility.

Campaign highlights

The Luke Forward campaign operated from the home base of The website’s purpose is to educate and update the community on the progress of the campaign and promote statewide support. The campaign used electronic communications, social media, a speaker’s bureau and other outreach tools. Campaign highlights include:

Several statewide delegation visits to Washington, D.C.

21,000 registered supporters statewide.

10,000 e-mails to decision makers.

1,500 participants in four official Environmental Impact Statement hearings throughout the West Valley.

Statewide delegation

The Luke Forward campaign engaged public- and private-sector leaders from across Arizona. Several supporters went to Washington, D.C., including this delegation organized by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council in April 2010, which included Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill.

Record of decision

On Aug.1, the U.S. Air Force announced its final selection of Luke as the first F-35 training center. The Air Force will initially place 72 new aircraft at Luke, likely to arrive in phases over the next couple of years.

In addition to ensuring the long-term viability of Luke, the F-35 training mission will serve as an economic stimulus for Arizona. The new fighter will require construction projects, facility improvements and infrastructure upgrades, which are getting under way this fall. It is anticipated that the construction work can initially bring as much as $110 million and about 2,290 jobs.

By Lori BakerThe Republic |

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