By Senior Airman Regina Edwards
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Team Little Rock celebrated the grand opening of a state-of-the-art Commons facility today with a dedication ceremony to honor one of the community’s true champions of quality of life projects.
The family of the late Col. Kenneth Walters, former 19th Mission Support Group deputy commander, represented their father and husband at the unveiling of the new Walters Community Support Center
The $3.7-million Walters Center centralizes key support services for military members and their families — the base library, Airman and Family Readiness Center and Community Activities Center — into a convenient located at the heart of the base, Bldg. 940 on Arnold Drive.
However, the most valuable thing about the building isn’t tangible; it’s the memory of the life of a man who touched so many lives as he fought for his own.
“We couldn’t be more honored that he will be immortalized in this way,” said Amy Walters, Col. Walters’ wife. “It pleases us all to know that this building in particular houses the things he was most passionate about: families, education and community.”
As the base remembers her husband’s legacy, Amy talked with the Combat Airlifter and shared some treasured memories of her husband of 24 years and the impact their time at Little Rock Air Force Base had on their family.
Who was Col. Kenneth Walters?
He was a comedian for sure, and he had a zest for life. He could make anyone feel at ease. He was kind, fair and easy-going, and enjoyed helping others. He didn’t come from a privileged family, so Kenny believed hard work was the road to success. He believed in taking the initiative, and he jumped in with both feet on every project. He motivated others with encouragement and led by example. He very much believed “the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”
How did Col. Walters feel about his work at Little Rock Air Force Base?
He came to Little Rock to take his first command with the 348th Recruiting Squadron. That job was his favorite, to that point, and we really saw him in his element. He was such a people person, and working with the young recruiters, mentoring and leading them, was very important to him.
What was Col. Walters’ motivation to continue to work while battling cancer?
He was diagnosed on Sept. 24, 2008. Kenny’s request from the start with me and with his doctors was simple, “Don’t tell me how long I have or when I’m going to die, tell me how to live.”
Some may not know that he had to fight not be medically discharged from the Air Force. He had to drive to San Antonio for a hearing at Lackland to fight for his job. He never wanted to give up. He wanted to work and be normal and not lay on the couch waiting to die. Working and staying active as a father kept him alive for three and a half years.
His reasons to continue working were several. First, he loved working for the Air Force and with his fellow military members. Second, he was determined to provide for his family. He wanted to get promoted to Colonel with the pay grade and retirement that accompanied it. And last, he wanted to live a normal life and not focus on dying but on living.
What is a fond memory you have here with Col. Walters at Little Rock?
It’s going to sound strange, but my fondest memories there include when he was sick. We grew extremely close during this period. We spent so much time together during hospital stays, driving to doctor’s appointments, sitting in waiting rooms, and flying to Houston for treatments during the last year that we had the opportunity to really talk and grow in our marriage. He relied completely on me, and I had the honor of being his caregiver.
What did he want people to remember him by most?
We never talked about it, because he refused to face his mortality, but I would think he would want others to remember his carefree, jocular, personality. He would never want anyone to remember him with cancer. He never let it define him.
What do you remember about him most?
Kenny was my rock and my best friend for nearly 30 years. I have very few memories that don’t include him. But, what I think of daily was his sheer determination to get through the bad days and face them head-on. He was my hero.
How does your family continue to keep his memory alive?
My family would say I do that a little too extreme. His uniforms still hang on the back of my bedroom door. My license plate is RMBR KEN. He is in pictures all over our house. He made too much of an impact to be forgotten. Most of all we talk about him and about his crazy antics- he was really a funny guy who easily put a smile on everyone’s face.
What would Col. Walters say if he was here to see the grand opening?
He would be humble and thankful and claim he was undeserving, but inside he’d be waving a checkered flag and doing his victory lap. He would love that his hard work and commitment both in his career and in his battle with cancer was being celebrated in this way.