Lawmakers representing Moon and local leaders today vowed to fight a renewed effort by the U.S. Air Force to close the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon and move or retire its aircraft over the next two years.
Echoing that pledge was U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, noting that closing the base and potentially shifting its personnel, their families and their spending power elsewhere would have a negative impact on Western Pennsylvania's economy.
"I am extremely disappointed that the Air Force is considering closing the 911th Airlift Wing. I will do everything I can to ensure this facility remains open," Altmire said. "Shutting it down would only negatively impact our community while doing little to save the money the Pentagon is looking to save."
The Air Force announced the planned closing as part of an $8.7 billion initiative aimed at restructuring and reducing defense spending in a "changing geopolitical environment" as U.S. operations wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Multiple bases and stations would lose aircraft or face other realignments under the five-year plan, but the 911th is the only base targeted for closure. In its announcement, the Air Force said it also would move or retire all seven of the C-130 planes housed at the 911th and would retire four KC-135 refueling tankers based at the 171st Pennsylvania Air National Guard station, also in Moon.
The Air Force did not address its plans for handling the assignments of more than 1,300 personnel now assigned to the 911th, which drawns reservists from several states.
Capt. Shawn Walleck, a spokesman for the 911th, said personnel at the base learned of the plan this afternoon in a meeting at the base club with Col. James B. Finney, its vice wing commander.
"Right now, we've been told that we will lose our aircraft and our base. The next piece of this is, 'OK, what's the plan and how does it directly impact our people? What options will the command make available for them?' "Walleck said.
"...We expect to hear something along those lines in early March."
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, too, said he is "extremely disappointed" by the Air Force announcement earlier today and would work to overturn the decision. In Moon, local leaders and residents were gearing up to fight the loss of the sprawling facility that for years has been both hub and landmark for the airport-corridor region.
“I was extremely disappointed to hear the announcement today by the Air Force regarding the 911th," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "This unit has been a vital part of our community, includes over 1,220 members, provides employment for over 300 civilians and provides tactical airlift support to members of our Armed Forces.
"I intend to work closely with our Congressional delegation to answer this proposal and fight to keep the 911th Airlift Wing open, operating and protecting our region,” he said.
Today's announcement confirms recent speculation that the Air Force realignment and accompanying budget cuts would have an impact on the future of the 911th. Still, Murphy said he'd hoped to persuade U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to keep the airlift wing open.
"There are strong indicators the Pentagon did not use the most up-to-date information about the capabilities, personnel levels, and operational costs," he said.
Murphy noted that Congressional approval is needed to close bases that employ more than 300 civilian workers, although the Air Force in its announcement said the 911th's planned closure would not meet that threshhold.
He added that the 911th Airlift Wing's expenses are considerably lower than other military bases because it shares overhead costs with other nearby facilities. One such cost savings, he said, comes from using runways at Pittsburgh International Airport.
"Closing the 911th doesn't make long-term fiscal sense," he said, adding that he plans to state that case in a meeting next week with Air Force leadership.
"I'm confident we have an opportunity to keep the ball moving forward to save the 911th, and I am going to do everything in my power to make sure the Air Force is using the most accurate data and information," he said.
The 911th has survived at least two previous efforts—most recently in 2005— to close it under proposals to consolidate and restructure defense facilities around the country. The latest plan also would remove planes from bases in Youngstown-Warren, OH, and Charleston, WV.
To read the full U.S. Air Force plan, click on the pdf accompanying this article.