911th to stay open at least until 2014

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WASHINGTON -- The 911th Airlift Wing is safe, Air Force officials told Pennsylvania's congressional delegation this morning, reversing the military's decision last year to wind down operations and close the base by September.

The base will keep its seven C-130 planes and even get one more, officials said after speaking with the Air Force this morning.

"In the end, the Air Force finally agreed that the 911th is one of the most efficient, skilled, and mission-ready airlift units in the country," said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, whose district includes the base.

911th Airlift Wing to remain open

The 911th Airlift Wing will remain open until at least 2014. (Video by Nate Guidry; 3/13/2014)

The Air Force has fully funded the 911th through 2014 and has committed to fully funding and staffing it, delegation members said.

"It's as safe as any other base now," said Congressman Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

That doesn't mean that those who fought for the base can rest now.

"We don't want to set up an expectation that [the 911th will stay open] forever," said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanik. The Air Force is continuing to study its needs, particularly in light of the $46 billion in recent spending cuts mandated by sequestration, she said.

"In Fiscal Year 2015 they'll be considered, along with all the other locations, for structure decisions."

That's why Mr. Murphy intends to keep up efforts to ensure Pentagon officials know about the bases's achievements and assets.

"This is like when the Steelers get off a Super Bowl win. They still have to get ready for the next season," he said after meeting with Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs.

He said Mr. Moeller indicated that any future base closure efforts would likely come through a formal Base Realignment and Closure process that entails in-depth analysis and procedures that aim to remove politics from restructuring decisions. Mr. Murphy is confident the 911th would survive systemic review.

Mr. Doyle said the 911th is one of the most cost-efficient bases in the country. He said the Air Force based its initial decision on the cost of operating the fleet of C-130s but did not consider unique efficiency and cooperation that reduced the cost of overall base operations. For example, the base pays a token $20,000 to the county for emergency services and for use of four runways at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Mr. Murphy said Gen. Moeller, who was promoted to his position in October, looked at the closure plan with fresh eyes.

"When he came on board he wanted to know all the data, all the numbers. He approached this with a real careful mind and he realized" how efficiently the base operates, Mr. Murphy said.

It was unclear exactly how the Air Force will make up the $354 million it had projected to save by closing the 911th. Ms. Stefanik said only that the change of course for the 911th "will drive reductions to other Air Force programs."

The closure had been part of a sweeping nationwide restructuring plan aimed at saving $8.7 billion over five years.

Ms. Stefanik said the Air Force will have more to say this evening about changes at other bases that operate C-130s. She could not say this afternoon where the Pittsburgh base's eighth plane will come from or when it will arrive.

The base in Moon has about 1,400 Reservists and 300 civilian personnel who primarily support the Air Force's Air Mobility Command.

"These families can sleep soundly tonight, knowing their jobs are secure and our country remains safe because of their awe-inspiring service," Mr. Murphy said.

U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., also lauded the decision in written statements.

"This was the right decision," Mr. Casey said in his statement. "I have been fighting to keep the 911th open because it is efficient and effective and a smart use of resource."

Mr. Toomey said it's gratifying that the Air Force agreed that there is little evidence to support the cost-effectiveness of closing the base.

"This is a victory for Pennsylvania, southwest Pennsylvania and our long-term military preparedness," he said.

State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, said the base closure would have hurt the region's economy and the nation's security.

"I'm so proud that Pentagon officials recognized that the 911th is a model base and tremendously cost-effective in terms of efficiency, particularly because of its utilization of shared services with other military installations and Allegheny County," said Mr. Smith, whose district includes the base.

The airlift wing also survived base closure attempts in 1995 and 2005.

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 and on Twitter: @pgPoliTweets.


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