911th Airlift Wing in Moon hopeful to land C-17 squadron
By Brian Bowling | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Published: January 14, 2016
Bigger planes, a larger base, a brighter future — that's the hope of civic leaders and elected officials lobbying the Air Force to pick the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon as the home for a new C-17 squadron.
"It's the newest airlift aircraft that the Air Force has," said Charles Holsworth, chairman of the Military Affairs Council of Western Pennsylvania, which formed years ago to fight off the Pentagon's repeated attempts to close the Air Force Reserve base.
Replacing eight C-130s with eight C-17s would add 100 to 200 full-time jobs at the base and increase its reserve ranks, said 911th spokesman Jacob Morgan. The Air Force Reserve Command sent a team to evaluate the base a couple of weeks ago, Holsworth said. A decision could be made in the next month.
With about 300 full-time military and civilian employees and 1,200 reservists, the 911th had an economic impact of about $126 million in the past fiscal year, Morgan said. Landing the C-17s would increase that figure, though by how much is uncertain, he said.
"It's really hard to come up with that number," Morgan said.
The most recent attempts to close the 911th were made in 2012 amid congressionally mandated budget cuts and in 2005 as part of a worldwide reassessment of U.S. military bases. In 2014, the Air Force Reserve Command picked it for the Commander-in-Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence, which recognized the base for making the best use of its resources and developing innovative solutions to problems.
"We certainly think we have made the case repeatedly why the 911th is a benefit to the Air Force," said Bernadette Puzzuole, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Air Force uses the 98-foot-long C-130 for tactical airlifts, such as ferrying troops and supplies between bases in combat zones. It uses the 174-foot C-17 Globemaster to perform strategic airlifts such as moving troops and supplies between the United States and overseas bases.
In a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Sen. Bob Casey asks her to name the 911th as the squadron's home in the budget proposal she's sending to the president in the next few weeks.
"The 911th (Airlift Wing) averages 800 airdrops annually and has supported combatant commands in more than 80 locations abroad over the past five years," said the Scranton Democrat.
With the Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing also located at the Pittsburgh International Airport, the units could easily train for air-to-air refueling operations, which are part of a C-17's mission, Casey said.
The Allegheny County Airport Authority is offering to extend the base's lease to 2048 and add more land to the base to house the larger planes, he said.
Airport authority spokesman Bob Kerlik said the lease extension would add 25 acres to the site.
"We are working with our military partners to put them in the best position possible to be successful in their mission or any future changes," he said. "We understand the importance of these bases to the region and we are committed to assisting them."
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, chairman of the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission, makes similar arguments in a letter to Lt. Gen. James Jackson, chief of staff for the Air Force Reserve.
"Our state would enthusiastically welcome the C-17," he said. "The 911th Airlift Wing has a half-century-long history of service to our country and a strong community presence, one in which Western Pennsylvanians take great pride."
If the Pentagon picks the 911th, it would invest in extending the airport's runways and the base facilities, Morgan said. The new mission would raise the possibility of converting the 911th into a military cargo hub, which would add even more jobs, Holsworth said.
Pennsylvania has depots and distribution centers in Harrisburg, Tobyhanna, Chambersburg and Mechanicsburg.
"With all the military depots in Pennsylvania, it would be excellent for them to hop on the interstates and go directly to the Pittsburgh airport," Holsworth said.
Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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