U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh visited Scott Air Force Base on Friday at the invitation of state and federal lawmakers, who want to protect the base from future efforts to downsize or close the base because of Pentagon cost-cutting efforts.
Welsh did not meet with reporters, but U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and other lawmakers met with the media at Heritage Park, outside the base's main gate, after Welsh's visit. Durbin, who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees discretionary spending for the U.S. military, said the visit is a pre-emptive move to make sure that the Air Force understands the support Scott Air Force Base provides to the nation's defense.
Durbin said that after speaking with Welsh, he thinks the general and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff understands Scott Air Force Base's vital role.
"Gen. Welsh said repeatedly that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine picking up Scott Air Force Base and moving it to another location," Durbin said. "There is so much infrastructure, so much invested here and so much depends on the success of Scott that he doesn't think that is something that is likely to occur. We're not going to dismiss anything with the concerns that we have. We're going to be vigilant. We're going to keep on it. This visit was the first of many efforts to make sure that Scott's here for generations to come."
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, said Welsh discussed how the Air Force has evolved with technological advancements. Enyart said Welsh recognizes how Scott Air Force Base has served in that capacity.
"Today, it's computer nodes, it's transportation nodes, all of the complexity of being able to reach out and touch anywhere in the world," Enyart said. "And the world doesn't get touched by the U.S. Air Force or by the U.S. military without Scott Air Force Base."
The base is home to the 375th Air Mobility Wing, which oversees operations and is responsible for the security, power and other elements of the base's day-to-day operations. The base also has 25 tenant units stationed there, including the U.S. Transportation Command, Air Mobility Command, Defense Information Systems Agency, 932nd Airlift Wing (Reserve) and the 126th Air Refueling Wing (Air National Guard).
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who serves as the ranking member of the Senate committee which oversees discretionary spending for base construction, said this is a bipartisan initiative to support the base.
"We need to make sure that we explain the vital military mission here that is happening day in and day out and the importance of the family income to so many people," Kirk said.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said he remembers the last Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC, in 2005, when local lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came together to help keep Scott Air Force Base off the closure list.
"This bi-partisan effort is what made Scott not only survive, but grow during that process back in 2005," Davis said. "And I see and I heard today from Gen. Welsh that Scott is in a very good spot, if and when the next BRAC decides to appear. But we're not going to rest here in Southwestern Illinois until we know that there is no next BRAC process, if Scott survives the next BRAC process. We need to recreate that same bi-partisan group effort from the local level up to the federal level to ensure that our national defense is a priority, not only for Southwestern Illinois, but for our nation. This isn't a Republican issue. This isn't a Democrat issue. This is an American issue, an issue that makes sure that our national defense and our military readiness starts right here at Scott Air Force Base."