911th Airlift Wing in Moon gets another reprieve
Col. Craig C. Peters, the 911th Airlift Wing commander, talks to base personnel Wednesday about the decision to keep the base open.
911th Airlift base personnel applaud after Col. Craig C. Peters, the 911th Airlift Wing commander, announced that the base will stay open.
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A celebratory mood descended over the 911th Airlift Wing on Wednesday as word spread from Washington, D.C., that the Air Force would spare the base from closure.
Word spread quickly after military leaders Wednesday morning said they were reversing an earlier decision to close the base in Moon by September.
"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.
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 U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.
That doesn't mean 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," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. 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 [the 911th will] be considered, along with all the other locations, for structure decisions," she said.
That's why Mr. Murphy intends to keep up efforts to ensure Pentagon officials know about the base'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.
Back at the 911th, Col. Craig Peters, base commander, wasn't worried about that on Wednesday.
"I don't want you to get focused on two years from now. Let's celebrate this victory," he told base personnel.
Some Reservists said they remained concerned about the long-term viability of the base and about the effects of budget cuts on base operations.
Gen. Moeller told members of Congress than any future discussion of base closures 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.
"When it comes to cost-effectiveness, you can't get much cheaper than that," Col. Peters said during his press conference.
He said the base supports hundreds of jobs and injects $127 million into the local economy.
But Col. Peters didn't make just an economic case for keeping the base open. He said the Pittsburgh location is strategic and important for maintaining security along the East Coast.
Another incident like 9/11 the Sept. 11th attacks "isn't a question of if, it's a question of when," he said. "When this happens, we are here."
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. Stefanek 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. Stefanek 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 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.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Upper St. Clair, called Wednesday's announcement welcome news that was the result of sustained efforts by current and former federal, state and local official along with the Military Affairs Coalition of Western Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Together, we made a very important difference and, today, we are all excited and relieved that these results were successful," Mr. Fitzgerald said.
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said numerous officials and stakeholders put aside party affiliation and politics in order to work together.
"The people who make the 911th fly deserve that extra effort and, when that closer look came, they provided they are what we said they are: the best in the business."
First Published March 14, 2013 12:00 am