Does it make any sense for the federal government to have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on the expansion of the air reserve base in Vienna Township, only to turn around and reduce its operational capability? No, it doesn’t. But that’s what will occur unless decision-makers at the Defense Department change their minds.
What would prompt them to take another look at the reassignment of four C-130 cargo planes from the Youngstown Air Reserve Station’s 910th Airlift Wing? The answer: A call from the White House.
There’s a reason President Obama should take an interest in what’s going on at the base: Politics.
In the last presidential election, Obama won Mahoning County with one of the highest vote percentages in the state: 63.1 percent of the 119,171 voters who cast ballots in 2012. His opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, didn’t come close. Likewise, in 2008, Obama garnered 61.4 percent in Mahoning County in his race against Republican John McCain.
Elections have consequences, and the residents of the Mahoning Valley expect the president to show his appreciation for the support he has received — and continues to receive — from this predominantly Democratic region.
Indeed, as the titular head of the national Democratic Party, Obama can’t be blind to the reality of the 2014 statewide election in which the Ohio Democratic Party is attempting to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich and the statewide GOP officeholders.
In addition, the ever important congressional elections will take place against the backdrop of the highly controversial Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Turnout in Mahoning and Trumbull counties will be key to the party’s political fortunes next year.
IMPORTANCE OF AIR BASE
The Youngstown Air Reserve Station is one of the most important cogs in the Mahoning Valley’s economic wheel.
In addition to being home to the 910th Wing, the base also accommodates Navy and Marine units. In the 2012 Defense budget, the facility 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.
The base, adjacent to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, has attracted millions of dollars in federal government investment — with good reason. The 910th Airlift Wing is the only fixed-wing aerial spray unit in the Defense Department.
The facility pumps $100 million a year into the local economy, making it as important as the General Motors Co.’s Lordstown assembly facility and the new $2 billion Vallourec steel pipe-making complex.
Thus, any reduction in operational capability will have a negative economic effect on the Valley.
If the reassignment of the four C-130 Hercules cargo transport aircraft is not reversed, 50 full-time and 150 part-time jobs will be lost forever.
Those jobs must be saved, if for no other reason than to put a stop to the cannibalization of the air reserve base.
Congressman Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, who like his predecessor, James A. Traficant Jr., has made the base a priority, noted that the Defense Department made the decision to reassign the aircraft “regardless of the fact that YARS airmen have been doing an outstanding job and the base has the infrastructure to support additional planes and additional military and civilian jobs.”
Ryan, a member of the House Appropriations and Budget committees, pledged to continue to push for long-term investments and manpower increases.
Ryan should convey his disappointment at the reduction of the facility’s capabilities to the White House. The congressman should remind the president’s political advisers that Mahoning and Trumbull counties have been with him all the way, even when other Democratic regions of the state and nation have been abandoning him.
Political, business and community leaders should join forces with Ryan in putting together a campaign to, first and foremost, persuade the Obama administration to revisit the aircraft reassignment decision, and then to develop a strategy for bolstering the air base’s capabilities.
The leaders should seek a meeting with former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, who is now with the Obama White House, to provide guidance on how to lobby the administration.
There is an ironic twist to the decision by the Department of Defense: while the reduction in aircraft from 12 to eight was being announced, a new $600,000 Air Force Reserve recruiting center at YARS was unveiled.
The federal government does, indeed, work in mysterious ways.