PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A standing ovation greeted Congressman Tim Murphy on Monday morning, as he was joined by other elected officials and military leaders at the 911th Airlift Wing.
As announced last week, the base is now saved at least through 2014. But the focus now is on keeping the base open for years to come.
“At a time when we’re looking at ways to save money for the taxpayers, one of the great stories is that the 911th is a great cost saver,” Murphy told a crowd of service men and women.
Faced with sequestration and other cuts in the military budget, local officials say the 911th is a great deal for taxpayers, saving $73 million.
“Why on Earth in the times of fiscal constraint would you reduce the most cost effective component which is the reserve component, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard?” Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard, asked rhetorically.
Reservists cost about one-third the cost of active military personnel, says Col. Craig Peters, Airlift Commander, who is optimistic about the future.
“There’s a lot of good reasons why it makes sense to keep the 911th,” Peters said. “My job is to make sure we are promoting all the positives that we have.”
Congressman Mike Doyle said the Air Force command learned a lot about those positives in this process.
“This cut was completely indiscriminate because they thought they had under 300 civilian employees and could do it without congressional approval,” said Doyle.
“They never looked at this base,” he said. “We forced them to look at the base and consider the assets of the base, and when they did that they understood this was a stupid idea to close this base.”
And for the men and women of the 911th and 171st Air Refueling Wing, it’s all about national defense.
“It’s what I signed up for 11 years ago, and get to keep doing it strong,” noted Tech Sgt. Kyle Imbrogno of the 911th.
Before the public event, the local elected officials met with military leaders, not to focus on recent good news but rather on the future.
“We think it’s prudent to be prepared for a BRAC, and that’s what we discussed this morning,” Doyle told reporters.
A BRAC — or Base Realignment and Closure Commission — has shut more than 350 military installations over the years, and another BRAC could be in the offing.
Local congressmen say we’re ready if that happens again.
“What we have gone through is this whole level where a lot of people with three or four stars on their shoulders know about Pittsburgh and the amenities we have here,” said Murphy.
“We sort of had our mini-BRAC this past year, so we’re practiced and ready,” added Doyle.
What makes officials optimistic about surviving future base closures?
Besides the cost savings, Col. Peters says the 911th could be a hub for military aircraft maintenance.
“We have the most efficient process right now in the Air Force. We’ve value-streamed everything. Our maintenance folks have set a standard here second to none,” Peters told KDKA’s Jon Delano.
Pittsburgh’s strategic location is also key — away from the crowded air space of the east coast and cities like Washington and New York, more likely targets of terrorist attack.
One reason why officials believe the 911th has a long future is that aircrafts like the C-130 can be used in the case of a national emergency to bring patients from the east coast to the world-renowned medical institutions right here in Pittsburgh.
Using aircrafts based or staged through the 911th, said Peters, “We could handle about 800 patients an hour through this location and disperse them out to local hospitals.”