Friday, December 5, 2014

TOP STORY >> ‘After 59 years, Little Rock AFB is still home’

By Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs 

Retired Maj. Julius Budelis has shared a love for his wife and Little Rock Air Force Base for almost 60 years. Budelis is one of the few people who can recall being stationed at The Rock the same year the base opened. 

Budelis first arrived at Little Rock in 1955. 

“Back then, there was nothing here,” Budelis said. “The mission set was to build the base. I remember helping construct the dorm buildings. The dorms, chapel and headquarters’ building were the only major structures on the base.”

At the time, Budelis was a personnel specialist who managed records and handled budgeting, but he completed other tasks in order to adjust to the base’s mission. 

When the base first opened, it was one of only four newly constructed Air Force bases in the country. All other bases at the time were originally built for the Army.

In 1955, the base and surrounding areas were much different than they are now.

“When I first got to Little Rock AFB, Jacksonville had about 3,500 residents,” said Budelis. “There were no highways built, and the only place to eat was a hot dog stand.” 

Budelis originally grew up in Connecticut, the son of Lithuanian immigrants. For him, moving to the south was an easy transition. 

“I grew up in a small town, so I was used to that type of environment,” said Budelis. “Even though there were only around 125 Airmen stationed here, I was able to stay active through volunteering with the boy scouts.” 

Along with volunteering, Budelis stayed busy by attending college at Little Rock Junior College, now named the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Little Rock Junior College is also where Budelis met his life-long partner.  

“I remember standing in line waiting to register for classes,” said his wife, Rosemary Budelis. “He was standing in front of me and offered to let me go ahead of him.” 

Rosemary, a Little Rock native, and Budelis hit it off and later became one of the first couples to get married at the Little Rock AFB Chapel. 

“Once we were married, we moved to a rustic lodge on Camp Robinson, as there was no base housing at Little Rock AFB,” said Budelis.  

Budelis and his wife received orders that same year. Upon their departure, Little Rock AFB had grown to become an integral part of the Strategic Air Command. The base hosted the 384th Bombardment Wing that flew the B-47E Stratojet, and the 70th Reconnaissance Wing, which flew the RB-47 Stratojet and KC-97 Stratofreighter.

The couple experienced their own myriad of changes during their 57 years of marriage.

“We now have two children and three grandchildren,” said Budelis. “After retiring, we moved back to the Little Rock area, and the base now gives me everything I need as a retiree. This is home for me; it is where I met the love of my life and grew as a young Airman.”

Over the years, Budelis had assignments in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, Ohio and Libya. However, his two-year stint at Little Rock AFB has been his and Rosemary’s favorite.   

“Little Rock is the most family-oriented base we’ve been to,” said Budelis. “People from the area are friendly and Airmen are totally accepted by the community.”

The amount of changes that Little Rock AFB has seen still surprises the Budelis’. The two look forward to the base’s 60th anniversary and embrace all of the base upgrades. 

“We never thought the base would get this big,” the couple said. “It seems like there are new buildings being constructed every time we visit. We’re still waiting on an indoor pool though.” 

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