Even though the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township survived the last round of military base closings in 1995, it would be a grave mistake for Mahoning Valley residents to conclude that the facility's future is etched in stone. The recent announcement by the Bush administration that about 50 more bases are ripe for closing or consolidation should prompt political and community leaders to develop a strategy to ensure that the Youngstown station is not targeted.
Indeed, U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, who went to bat for this region six years ago when he was governor, told Vindicator editors and writers last week that while he supports the administration's position that bases must be closed, the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis.
Voinovich also made it clear that he would fight any attempt by the Pentagon and the White House to present Congress with an "all or nothing" proposition. Pentagon officials have said that a special base-closing commission would develop a list of the facilities to be closed and submit that list to Congress. Then, the House and Senate would be asked to approve the list in its entirety. Members of Congress would not have the option of picking and choosing, nor would they be able to make arguments on the merits.
It is obvious that President Bush wants to avoid the type of political bloodletting that greeted the base-closing effort in 1995.
Justification: We strongly support Voinovich's contention that members of Congress should have the right to explore the reasoning behind the commission's decision and should have the opportunity to offer counter arguments. Given that opportunity, we have no doubt that the Mahoning Valley, through Ohio's two senators, Voinovich and Republican Mike DeWine, as well as Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, if he is still in office next year, would have no trouble justifying the existence of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
The station houses the 910th Airlift Wing, and small contingents of U.S. Navy Reserve, Marine Corps and Army Corps of Engineers. It is combat-ready facility and boasts the largest Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft base in the country. Most of the structures in the facility, which is adjacent to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, are less than 10 years old.
Given that the Bush administration's goal in this endeavor is to cut costs so the Pentagon will have money for pay raises, ammunition, spare parts and new equipment, we would argue that the reserve units provide an extra dimension to the nation's military capability at a fraction of the cost of full-time military units.
In addition, we would point out that the federal government has poured millions of dollars into the Air Reserve Station and the municipal airport since the 1995 base-closing initiative. It would be foolhardy for the Bush administration to now come back and close the base.
Unpredictable: But, the ways of the federal government are impossible to predict, which is why we believe that community and political leaders of the Mahoning Valley need to be ready in the event the commission decides to target the Youngstown facility -- again.
The strategy developed in 1995 worked like a charm. It should serve as a guide.