Legislators still working to keep 911th base open in Moon

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The fight continues to stop closure of the U.S. Air Force 911th Airlift Wing in Moon, which according to military figures, hosts 1,126 reservists and fewer than 300 civilian employees.

The thrice-targeted base reportedly has a $114 million impact on the region and was granted a brief reprieve from closure in September through a temporary law spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. This legislation prohibits the transfer or retirement of aircraft for six months and effectively prevents shuttering of the base through March 2013.

According to Mr. Murphy, the Air Force is pursuing support for a new proposal to begin shutdown after expiration of the law.

Previous attempts in 1995 and 2005 were Base Closure and Realignment Commission-mandated efforts that were skirted due to proof of base efficiency and other factors.

The current effort by the Air Force is an attempt to reduce spending in response to the Pentagon's call for drastic cuts to military expenditures. The Budget Control Act calls for $487 billion in reductions across all branches of the military.

At a community meeting Monday in Moon, Mr. Murphy said he realizes defense cuts need to be made, but he'd prefer if these cuts made sense from a financial standpoint.

"They can't make decisions in a financial vacuum," he said.

Various groups, legislators and individuals have repeatedly asked the Pentagon for a response to questions as to why the 911th is being targeted again and why the Pentagon has failed to undertake a cost-benefit analysis justifying the decision.

Answers have not been forthcoming.

Elected officials maintain that the 911th is an efficient and cost-effective unit and are urging constituents to contact the governor's office and U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey asking them to back an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 or Bill 3254.

This amendment is expected to be introduced by Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, whose district is facing similar issues.

The amendment would apply to bases with more than 1,000 reservists and hopefully prohibit what some refer to as back door base closures.

If passed without amendment, the bill would block closure of the Moon base until Sept. 30, 2013, according to Mr. Murphy.

The bill should be taken up by the Senate this week.

Last visited in 1977, a statute created in a similar vein declared a base must have at least 300 civilian employees to be closed without Congressional action. The Air Force is using this regulation as a basis for its planned closure.

Mr. Murphy said the statute was originally created to keep politics out of base closures.

Additionally, a letter dated Nov. 26 is being sent to Carl Levin, chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the committee, to express opposition to any restructuring proposals that would close the Air Force Reserve station.

The letter hinted that the Air Force may propose revised provisions to include closure of the 911th as part of the NDAA bill being considered.

Signed by both Sens. Casey and Toomey, this letter was circulated prior to the community meeting during a gathering of the Military Affairs Coalition of Western Pennsylvania.

neigh_west

Sonja Reis, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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