Valley should prepare defense of air reserve base

While the Mahoning Valley is breathing a sigh of relief over the Youngstown Air Reserve Station’s being spared the federal budget ax, let us not forget that there’s always next year.

Thus, we should view the “strategic pause” in the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill passed this week by the U.S. Senate as an opportunity rather than a victory.

The pause prevents the Air Force from reassigning C-130 military transport planes from the 910th Airlift Wing at the air reserve station in Vienna Township. It would have resulted in the loss of 97 traditional part-time reservists and 33 full-time equivalent federal civilian employees and Air Reserve technicians. The economic impact would have been significant.

The Youngstown Air Reserve Station, adjacent to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, is home to the 910th Wing and Navy and Marine units. In the 2012 defense budget, it was authorized to have 1,348 Air Force reservists, 250 full-time Air Reserve technicians, 190 Air Force Department of Defense civilian employees and 184 Navy and Marine Corps members.

Of significance is the fact that the 910th Airlift Wing is the only fixed-wing aerial spray unit in the Defense Department.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who announced the “strategic pause” in the 2013 defense budget, pointed out that the men and women at the station carry out a unique and critical mission.

“This legislation will ensure that the aircraft and personnel at YARS remain intact for the following year, while giving Congress time to devise a long-term solution,” the senator, who won re-election last month to a second six-year term, said in a news release.

The Valley should play a leading role in devising a long-term solution to the nation’s defense and national security needs.

We have no doubt that U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who also won re-election, will lead the effort to secure the future of the air reserve station — just as he has done since he went to Congress in 2003.

Indeed, Ryan is expected to return to the House Appropriations Committee and the defense subcommittee when the new Congress convenes in January. He had served on those panels when the Democrats were in the majority.

Although he will be a minority member, his experience on Capitol Hill and the fact that he will be only one of four Democrats in the 16-member congressional delegation from Ohio will benefit this region and the district (it will be the 13th) starting in January.

Economic pillar

It has been said many times before: The air reserve station is one of the main pillars of the region’s economic well-being.

The $100 million a year pumped into the economy makes it as important as General Motors Co.’s Lordstown assembly plant, the hospitals, Youngstown State University and V&M Star with its $1 billion investment in new steel pipe-making facilities.

When the Pentagon begins developing its 2014 budget — the federal fiscal year starts in October — the Youngstown Air Reserve Station should be targeted for expansion, rather than for closure or contraction.

Elected officials, economic development specialists and business and community leaders need to come up with a plan of action to make the reserve station indispensable to the Air Force and the Department of Defense.

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