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Senators keep up efforts to avert closing of 911th Air Wing in Moon

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By Bobby Kerlik
Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Passage of a defense spending bill this month did not include a provision to save the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon from the chopping block, prompting Pennsylvania leaders to rally again to save the base.

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh, on Wednesday released a letter they wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday urging him to keep the base open, despite closure plans by the Air Force, until a national commission studying Air Force organization releases its findings.

“The 911th is a very efficient and cost-effective installation that is an essential part of the proudly patriotic community in the Pittsburgh area,” the senators wrote. “Perhaps most importantly, an incredibly skilled and experienced workforce is employed at the 911th installation, a significant and irreplaceable resource for the Air Force.”

Local officials hoped the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act would have prevented the Air Force from closing the 911th until the new National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force had a chance to analyze the Department of Defense proposal.

Gov. Tom Corbett will visit the 911th Friday to rally support for the base.

About 2,000 people work at the 911th or are based there. The senators' letter also urges Panetta to keep the C-130 cargo planes stationed there.

“It's important for the 911th to have these assets at the base so it can continue to do the work it's been doing for quite some time,” Casey spokesman John Rizzo said. “Now that the National Defense Authorization Act has passed, it's critical to weigh in on these issues to continue to fight for the 911th.”

In February, the Air Force announced plans to close the base by September 2013, saying the move could save $354 million over five years. The Air Force has said it plans to reduce its force by 9,900 people and ground nearly 300 planes. The 911th's eight C-130s could be retired as part of that plan.

Capt. Shawn Walleck, spokesman for the 911th, said the Air Force is still planning to close the base.

The Department of Defense in July ordered the Air Force to hold off on a decision regarding the future of the base for at least one more year.

Retired Air Force Col. Jerry Kintigh, who chairs the nonprofit Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Job Retention and Military Presence, advocates to keep the 911th open.

“The Air Force mistakenly considers an asset to be airplanes and bases. They're not the assets — it's the people, experience and talent and we have all three of those in abundance,” Kintigh said. “The base itself is gorgeous, and by that I mean it's well-equipped, well-maintained and able to hold 16 airplanes.

“The Air Force wants to throw that away.”

The 911th has survived two attempts at closure. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said he was disappointed the defense spending bill didn't include a provision to save the 911th and that he would keep fighting to save it.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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