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911th could learn fate as early as this week

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The more than 2,000 military and civilian employees stationed at the Air Force Reserve's base in Moon could learn Wednesday whether the base will close.

The Pentagon plans to announce a decision by new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh on which bases will receive the additional C-130 cargo planes mandated in the defense spending bill President Obama signed in January, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Monday.

She confirmed that Pentagon officials are meeting with the House and Senate Armed Services Committee and several other groups on Wednesday but couldn't confirm whether one of those meetings concerns the 911th or comment on how the decision affects the 911th.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, confirmed the delegation is meeting with the Pentagon on Wednesday. Hagel, before his confirmation, agreed to keep an open mind about the base and meet with the delegation, he said.

“I sure hope it's good news,” Casey said. “We've had a good case to make. The 911th sells itself.”

A staff member for Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, also confirmed the meeting. Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, couldn't be reached for comment.

The Air Force announced in February 2012 that it planned to close the base this year as part of a national plan to cut military spending and reduce its fleet of planes. The Defense Department put the plan on hold in July.

The Air Force formed a working group in January to look at how the military could implement a congressional mandate that it keep a minimum of 358 cargo planes instead of the 326 cargo planes it planned for in its 2013 budget.

The 911th has eight C-130 cargo planes.

Murphy made a pitch to the working group in February, pointing out the Moon air base's relatively low operating costs and reliability in harsh weather. Casey, Toomey and Doyle have also pressured the Air Force to reconsider its decision.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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