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Wright-Patterson forever changed after 9/11

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE -- When hijackers commandeered jetliners hurtling the planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., overseas deployments of Wright-Patterson airmen and civilians grew by the hundreds and base security tightened.

Deployments reached more than 1,039 in 2013, the highest since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and more than double the 407 who deployed in 2001.

"We've focused a lot over the last 10 years on readiness and the process of deployment and streamlining the process of deployment," said Col. Cassie B. Barlow, 88th Air Base Wing commander.

The base also bolstered security, reviewing everything from how close people park near buildings to security forces checking everyone's military or personal ID at the gate, she said.

"It's a new mindset now," said base spokesman Daryl Mayer. "We're not going back to the old way."

The war on terror became an everyday reality throughout the base, with commands at Wright-Patterson sending many to the warfront in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rank-and-file personnel, including civilians, at Air Force Materiel Command headquarters at Wright-Patterson were deployed to the Middle East, said AFMC spokesman Ron Fry.

AFMC, with about 80,000 employees worldwide, is responsible for research and development, testing, evaluation, acquisition and maintenance of Air Force weapon systems and equipment, among other roles.

"At any given time, we had hundreds of AFMC people deployed," Fry said. "We had our people in the fight just like the other commands that have a more traditional warfighting role than we do."

AFMC affiliated labs focused research on wartime demands, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, new sensors and electronics. Maintenance depots at other AFMC bases had a surge of equipment to repair.

Growth for NASIC since 9/11

At the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the workforce has grown about 50 percent since the 9/11 attacks, according to NASIC chief scientist Gary O'Connell, the top civilian leader of the intelligence gathering and analysis organization at Wright-Patterson.

Much of that growth was in the area of interpreting sensor data, he said. The intelligence agency, which provides data on foreign air, space and cyber threats, has provided critical information to ground troops in Afghanistan, officials said.

"We are in the fight in Afghanistan even though it is not necessarily an air or space battlefield," O'Connell said. "The intelligence value that a NASIC provides is critical..."

The secretive agency has a workforce today of about 3,000 employees, two-thirds of which are government civilian employees.

As the nation marched off to war in past decades, the population at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base grew. O'Connell predicted the NASIC workforce would stay close to where it is the next two years, but had no prediction what would happen if sequestration, or automatic budget cuts, resume in 2016. In the future, more cyber experts will be hired as intelligence analysts retire, he said.

With every war, the base population since World War I has risen and then fallen.

The all-time population high was reached in the midst of the massive war build-up in 1942 when 46,500 people -- more than 16,000 airmen and 29,000 civilian workers -- worked at the Miami Valley base.

More recently, the base population reached a low of 16,953 in 2000. A decade later, in 2011, it had climbed to an estimated post 9/11 high of 27,865 of military, civil service and contractors. The base did not start counting contractors until 2005, according to Mayer, a base spokesman.

"It's been a slow rise all the way up to the high of 27,000," Barlow said.

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