911th Airlift Wing's Closing Shelved

The Department of Defense has ordered the Air Force to hold off on a decision regarding the future of the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon for at least one more year, local officials said.

"It's great news, especially around the Fourth of July," Moon Supervisor Jim Vitale said on Sunday.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said legislators received a letter from Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explaining the order. A department spokeswoman could not confirm the order on Sunday.

The extension also applies to the Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing in Findlay, which faces reductions in aircraft and personnel, Murphy said.

Air Force officials announced plans to close the 911th in February, saying the move could save $354 million over five years. The base was slated to close by September 2013.

The closure would have helped the Air Force meet a five-year goal of cutting spending by $8.7 billion -- part of a larger government plan to reduce Defense spending by $450 billion in 10 years.

Supporters of the 911th said the closing would affect about 2,500 people who work or are based there. Reducing the fleet would result in the loss of about 180 jobs at the 171st.

The 911th Airlift Wing recruits and trains Air Force Reserve personnel. The 171st is an aerial refueling and air mobility unit.

Vitale said the year extension was the minimum that supporters hoped to get.

"We'll see where it leads us now," he said. "Hopefully, (the Air Force) will find out where they need to do some cost-cutting, and hopefully it's in other areas."

Since the planned closing of the 911th was announced, elected officials, business leaders and military retirees all worked to thwart the plan. Murphy said he was pleased that the "Secretary of Defense got the message."

The congressman said the rationale behind closing the 911th was based on an inaccurate picture of its costs.

"Hopefully the Air Force will do a more thorough evaluation," Murphy said.

Brian Schill, spokesman for the Military Affairs Coalition of Western Pennsylvania, a group dedicated to preserving the 911th and 171st, said the year extension was "exactly what we were asking for."

"We're asking the Air Force and Congress to do their due diligence," he said. "We've worked tirelessly to get to this point. We're obviously happy it's progressing in this manner."

Schill said that despite the news, the organization will not stop offering support, calling the extension "the first step in a process."

"We want to highlight the economic value of the 911th and 171st," he said. "Our chance to shine is now, because it will be highlighted."

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