Flying high?: The Air Force inadvertently boosts the 911th's case

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If it's one issue where the tags Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, haven't meant much, it is the effort to save the 911th Airlift Wing from capricious budget cutting. The base attached to Pittsburgh International Airport is both an efficient military asset and a respected member of the civilian community.

The nation's overall military spending must be reduced, but those choices have to be carefully and sensibly made.

For the last year, Air Force brass have seemed to lack a fact-based rationale for wanting to close the 911th. The Military Affairs Council of Western Pennsylvania, which is spearheading the effort to make a fact-based case to retain the base, is collecting reports from working groups and by week's end hopes to forward this information to the area's congressional delegation, which in turn will present it to the Air Force.

But in an odd way, the Air Force does seem to have some notion already of what a good base it has in Moon, even if it hasn't been able to connect the dots. How else to explain the news that Pittsburgh's 171st Air Refueling Wing is on a list of five finalists to be a major operating base for new KC-46A tanker aircraft?

The fate of the 911th is not directly linked to that of the 171st -- because the 911th is a Reserve unit and is threatened with closure, while the 171st, a Pennsylvania National Guard unit next door, is not. They fly different aircraft but share the same location. And they share something else in common: Some of the arguments for their existence here are the same.

In a joint press release announcing that the 171st was being considered for the new tanker aircraft, Pennsylvania's senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, included a letter they had written in July to Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley pointing out why Pittsburgh was an ideal place for the planes. They noted the "ideal location and local partners" and a "proven history of service." Yet everything they wrote was also true of the 911th.

It is written that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but the Air Force does not have to do the same, even if it does fly high in the heavens. If the Air Force thinks this base may be an excellent place for a re-equipped 171st, it follows that it may also be an excellent place for the 911th to keep performing its mission.

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