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Penn. officials rallying to support Air Force base

MOON TWP. — Pennsylvania leaders continue to rally around Moon Township’s 911th Air Force Reserve Station, which officials said could be in danger again as soon as March. The latest to step up is Gov. Tom Corbett.

Corbett, flanked by one of the 911th’s seven C-130H2 transport planes in a base hangar Friday morning, said the military installation is a “key component to our national defense.” The 911th also has one C-130H2 on loan to Little Rock Air Force Base.

Pledging to make a trip to Washington, D.C., in January with area federal legislators to argue with the Pentagon on behalf of the 911th Airlift Wing, Corbett said his job is to help convince the Air Force “it would be a huge mistake to close the 911th.”

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Corbett said he has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in support of the base. The state’s two U.S. senators, Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Philadelphia, said earlier this week they also had sent a letter to Panetta urging the 911th be spared closure.

The Air Force announced in February that it planned to close the 911th within two years as part of an effort to cut $8.7 billion in defense spending. But the station was given a reprieve after congressional leaders froze spending for aircraft and personnel moves.

Leaders thought they had until next September before closure would again be on the table, but U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-18, Upper St. Clair Township, who stood with Corbett at Friday’s press conference, said language in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act could put the decision back in the Air Force’s hands as soon as March.

Murphy said the defense spending bill did order the Air Force to keep 40 of the 65 planes it planned to cut, which he said means there are plenty of planes still in play for the 911th. In addition to saving the base, leaders said they plan to argue for an expansion of the facility’s mission and the movement of newer planes to the airlift wing, which could speed up its response time even further.

Corbett, after a 40-minute meeting with base personnel, said he learned a lot about the worth of the 911th, not just in dollars and employment, but also in national importance in providing medical evacuations and supply support in emergencies throughout the country, and also overseas troop and equipment movement that has been pivotal in the Middle East and everywhere else it has been needed.

Corbett noted the 911th can cover 70 percent of the nation within a two-hour flight. According to military records, the 911th is No. 2 in the number of hours flown by an Air Force Reserve station since 2010.

“I see great potential for growth if they stay here,” Corbett said.

And Corbett noted the 911th is one of the most cost-efficient military installations in the United States because of its $20,000 per year contract with Pittsburgh International Airport to provide maintenance, flight operations support and fire protection.

And Allegheny County, which owns the airport property, has offered 53 more acres free to the Air Force, including 105,000 square feet that could be used for additional taxiway and apron space, leaders said.

“I believe to move this wing to another location would be a much greater cost than keeping it here,” Corbett said.
 

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