Col. Kirtland's granddaughter visits base

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- From the moment Dr. Jennifer Pruyn Heckman -- the granddaughter of Col. Roy C. Kirtland -- arrived here Monday, she got a chance to get acquainted with her grandfather's legacy and his continuing influence throughout the base, the state and the Air Force family.

Dr. Heckman, an independent educational consultant from Palo Alto, Calif., visited here for the first time last week, touring a number of facilities, viewing historical artifacts and meeting with Col. Robert Suminsby Jr., 377th Air Base Wing commander, all in an effort to learn more about her family history and her grandfather's professional accomplishments.

"I never met my grandfather," Dr. Heckman said. "Unfortunately, he passed away before I was born, but I've heard many, many stories, wonderful stories about him, his life and his incredible influence. He's definitely made his mark in the Air Force's history."

Upon arriving here last week, Dr. Heckman visited the Phillips Space Conference Center to view the Colonel Kirtland display. She then went on to the Air Force Research Laboratory's Phillips Research Site Historical Information Office to learn more from Steve Watson, archivist with the AFRL history office.

Dr. Heckman got the opportunity to learn more about her grandfather's life from David Bragg, 377th ABW historian and by viewing the Colonel Kirtland displays at the 377th ABW headquarters office and meeting with Colonel Suminsby.

"This is my first time seeing the base named after my grandfather; it's my first time in New Mexico," Dr. Heckman said. "It's incredibly beautiful, and I'm completely amazed at how large and multi-faceted the base is -- I didn't know that."

Dr. Heckman said that her mother, Colonel Kirtland's daughter, named Helen after his wife, never got a chance to visit the base either.

"It's something she always wanted to do and since she didn't get that chance, I am here in her stead and on my own behalf to learn more about my grandfather," she said.

Mr. Watson, who escorted Dr. Heckman during her visit, is well-read on Colonel Kirtland's history and briefed Dr. Heckman of her grandfather's many accomplishments and how the base has grown into what it is today, bearing his name.

"I feel very honored and privileged to be here. Mr. Watson has educated me a lot on who my grandfather was and what he has done and being here makes me feel closer to my grandfather," Dr. Heckman said. "I've heard stories from my grandmother, Helen Parker Kirtland, and now I get to see some of the things she has told me in person, things I can see and touch. It helps me embrace the richness of my family history."

Dr. Heckman was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she attended Punahou School. Dr. Heckman is a swimmer and an equestrian. Dr. Heckman has served as a peer reviewer for the Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research and has been a member of the American and California Associations of Marriage and Family Therapists, the American Public Health Association and the American Educational Research Association. Dr. Heckman is married and has two school-aged daughters.

"My daughters so wanted to come with me on this visit," she said, "but we plan to visit again as a family. They would love to get closer to their great-grandfather whom they never met, either.

"The kids told me this time I can come for tutu -which is Hawaiian for grandmother -- and next time we can all come for the whole family," she continued.

"My grandfather's achievements have shaped my family history. I'm so proud of him -- it's neat to have your grandfather honored by having the base named after him and it gives me a view of a bigger picture of who he was and what great contributions he made to the Air Force," Dr. Heckman said. "This visits has helped fill in some of the gaps of our family history for me.