Hope takes flight: The news gets better for the survival of the 911th
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It is too early to celebrate, but it seems that optimism has been cleared for takeoff concerning the fate of the Air Force Reserve's 911th Airlift Wing and the Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Despite stout opposition from community leaders and politicians in the region, it has seemed for months that the Air Force was determined to gut the base as part of mandated defense cuts without regard to its proven effectiveness and the quality of the units stationed there.
Unlike previous base closure attempts that had been thwarted, no orderly process seemed to be in place for a fair evaluation of the arguments against such a move. The decision seemed entirely up to the Air Force brass, and they didn't seem to be listening.
But by degrees, the fate of the base in Pittsburgh has gone from immediate peril to something more like indefinite or postponed. First, the local congressional delegation managed to stall funding for the restructuring -- which caused Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to postpone all scheduled transfers and equipment retirements.
Last week came news that the Navy had awarded a $10.6 million contract for a new Naval Operational Support Center, which will move out of a deteriorating facility in North Versailles in 2014 to be at the airport.
Both U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., support the move as another argument for raising the strategic importance of the base in general. Together with the ground-breaking for a new commissary in Moon on Aug. 17, the pressure on the Pentagon would seem to be growing to keep an important military presence in Pittsburgh.
But the national deficit is going to put more pressure in the future to cut budgets, in defense as in everything else. The 2013 defense appropriations bill, which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Aug. 2, calls for a national commission to look at Air Force structure adjustments.
If that occurs and supporters of the 911th get a chance to make their case, both on the base's strategic value and its economic worth to the community, the peril may be averted. Until then, this flight may be long and bumpy.
First Published August 11, 2012 12:00 am