Corbett to join in call to keep 911th open

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Touting the budgetary and security usefulness of the 911th Airlift Wing, Gov. Tom Corbett and the head of the Pennsylvania National Guard today will join the bipartisan chorus of state government and civic voices seeking to stop the Defense Department from shuttering the military installation in Moon.

In September, Mr. Corbett formed the Pennsylvania Military Community Protection Commission to advocate for military installations in the state. And since the Air Force announced a renewed effort last February to close the 911th, he has sent Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, the state's adjutant general and commander of its National Guard, to Washington, D.C., to lobby federal officials against the move.

The 911th employs about 1,900 personnel, including reservists, trainees and civilians who operate and maintain seven C-130 transport planes. Closing it would also affect duties for the Air National Guard's adjacent 171st Air Refueling Wing.

The Air Force announced plans to close the 911th last year as part of plans to save $354 million by 2018, although Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delayed the move during the summer after Congress did not appropriate enough money to implement the plans.

Mr. Corbett, like other 911th supporters, today is expected to praise the low-cost assistance the Moon facility provides to Air Force operations and its economic importance to the Pittsburgh International Airport corridor.

The governor's commission was named in September "to examine and advocate for Pennsylvania's military installations and the important role they play in our local economy and national security. The 911th is a prime example of an important military installation," spokeswoman Janet Kelley said.

"The governor wants Washington to know he disagrees with the proposed plan to eliminate the 911th Airlift Wing, which has maintained a stellar record of performance, efficiency and effectiveness," she continued.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, sought to include an amendment saving the 911th in the 2013 federal defense spending bill, but it was left out when the $641 billion measure was approved last week.

Through other efforts, congressional leaders got the Defense Department to agree to hold onto 32 more aircraft than originally proposed. Whether that number includes the C-130s in Moon or the C-27J transport aircraft elsewhere is up to the Air Force.

"I believe the Air Force has the data proving the 911th to be one of the most cost-effective bases in the country, so my efforts will not stop because I know if the Air Force looks at its own data, they will come to the same conclusion Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon did: Pittsburgh deserves an airlift mission," Mr. Murphy stated.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., jointly issued a bipartisan letter to Mr. Panetta asking him to keep C-130s at the Moon facility and to hold off on closures until a study Congress mandated on their cost-effectiveness can be completed, probably in early 2014.

"In the absence of any thorough analysis, which the Air Force has yet to provide, we are concerned it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to close this installation. We strongly believe that no action to close or downsize the unit should be undertaken until the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force has completed its work and Congress has been provided the analysis needed to assess the wisdom of any such action," they wrote.

electionspa - neigh_west

Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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