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From ‘need to know’ to ‘need to share’

Col Dwight Sones, commander of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kyrgyzstan, has made community outreach a key focus of the U.S. air base. The base hosted an estimated 2,000 Kyrgyz visitors Oct. 18, 2010 for tours and demonstrations celebrating the more than 600 civilians from the Bishkek area who work at the Manas Transit Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Col Dwight Sones, commander of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kyrgyzstan, has made community outreach a key focus of the U.S. air base. The base hosted an estimated 2,000 Kyrgyz visitors Oct. 18, 2010 for tours and demonstrations celebrating the more than 600 civilians from the Bishkek area who work at the Manas Transit Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

   Manas commanders regularly struggle with what they consider flawed perceptions of the U.S. air base's military role showing up in Russian, Kyrgyz and other predominantly foreign media.

   So, Manas is turning inside out the military's precautionary mindset that all information be guarded on a “need to know” basis, and hoping that a more open and inviting relationship with the supply base's neighbors will help ease Kyrgyz apprehension about its purpose.

   “We call it `a need to share,'” said Col. Dwight Sones, commander of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing at Manas.

   The base has begun actively encouraging Kyrgyz nationals to visit the Transit Center, drawing an estimated 2,000 from the Bishkek area last week for tours, demonstrations and barbecue. Earlier, it hosted several foreign media organizations from as far away as Russia, China, Japan and England.

   So far, it's helped identify at least one contributor to some of the worried speculation: windowless dormitories with separate air conditioning units for each room.

   The perception apparently had been that the buildings were being secretly used for something much more important than dormitories because it's so uncommon in this part of the world to provide such amenities for rank-and-file troops, explained Major John Elolf.

The solution? Elolf made sure that those who were worried about the buildings got a chance to tour them.




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David Wasson oversees coverage of politics and state and local government and assists with editing on the City Desk.

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