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Focus on being best earns once-doomed 911th Airlift Wing excellence award

| Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014, 11:30 p.m.
Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh stands for a portrait in his office at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh stands for a portrait in his office at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
MSgt Randy Don, 53, of Ross installs leading edge bolts onto a C130H cargo plane at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
MSgt Randy Don, 53, of Ross installs leading edge bolts onto a C130H cargo plane at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh talks to the Tribune-Review in his office at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh talks to the Tribune-Review in his office at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
SSgt Kraig Stahlman, 23, of Strabane, installs a jack pad onto a C130H cargo plane at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
SSgt Kraig Stahlman, 23, of Strabane, installs a jack pad onto a C130H cargo plane at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Moon on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
A decal of a C130H cargo plane is shown on a window at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Coraopolis on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
A decal of a C130H cargo plane is shown on a window at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Coraopolis on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. the 911th was named the top Air Force Reserve Base with the 2015 Commander-in- Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence.

After nearly a decade of uncertainty about its future, the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon has found solid ground, its commander said.

“As we sit here today, this base is as solid as any installation in (the Defense Department),” said Col. Jeffrey Van Dootingh. “There's no plan to close it. Congress does not even have a (base review) scheduled. And so, I'm moving forward as if this base is going to be here forever.”

The Air Force Reserve Command announced this month that the 911th had won its Commander-in-Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence. The command gives the award to the base it believes has made the best use of its resources and developed innovative solutions to problems.

Along with the recognition, the base will receive $100,000 earmarked for morale, welfare and recreation.

Winning the award is a sign the Air Force Reserve unit's “focus has shifted from saving the base to making this the best base in the entire command,” Van Dootingh said.

The 911th Airlift Wing has 314 full-time military and civilian employees and more than 1,200 reservists. The latest economic impact study shows it brings about $110 million to the local economy, said 911th spokesman Jacob Morgan.

A bipartisan commission in 2005 initially proposed closing the base, spurring local military and civic groups to wage a campaign that saved it. Coming out of that fight, however, local leaders knew the Air Force viewed the base as expendable.

In February 2012, the Air Force again sought to close the base as part of its plan to meet congressionally mandated budget cuts. That fight ended in March with the Pentagon agreeing to fund the base but planning to eliminate the bulk of its civil engineer squadron.

The Air Force is planning similar cuts to civil engineering units at other bases as part of its budget trimming process.

An Air Force spokeswoman and the offices of Sen. Bob Casey. D-Scranton, and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, confirmed those cuts are still scheduled, but no other changes are being discussed.

Murphy and Casey said the Installation Excellence award confirms that the base is valuable and should be kept open.

“Together, through perseverance and innovation, the leadership, airmen and civilian workforce at Pittsburgh have worked to make the 911th Airlift Wing a model for efficiency, capability, cooperation, cost-effectiveness and readiness,” Casey said.

Murphy said the award “confirms that by any objective measure, our airlift wing delivers great value for the taxpayers while meeting a critical need for our national defense.”

The 911th survived because of the strength of its community partnerships, which helped it win the award for installation excellence, Van Dootingh said.

“I'm coming up on 30 years of service,” he said. “I've been on a lot of bases, and the support here at Pittsburgh is just unmatched.”

One example of that is Moon paying the base $500 a year so the township's water tank can sit at a high point on the base.

“We are the only base that I know of that makes money,” he said.

The base is cutting its energy costs by building more energy-efficient facilities, including a lodging facility that has been certified gold by the U.S. Green Building Council. The new Navy Operational Support Center on the base is under review for the certification, the council's highest.

While the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan has reduced combat deployments for Reserve and National Guard units generally, it hasn't changed the number for the airlift wing.

“We're still over there with nation-building, and so there's still plenty of need for airlift hauling supplies around — contractors, troops, whatever it might be,” Van Dootingh said. “We're still pretty busy.”

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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