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Air Force Reserve base must be area’s priority

Sunday, September 9, 2018

What do GM’s Lordstown assembly complex and the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township have in common? They each need a new product to guarantee their futures.

The 52-year-old car manufacturing plant is down to one shift because the Chevrolet Cruze, once the rock star of General Motors’ fleet, is no longer in demand. Sales are on a downward trend because buyers are choosing crossovers, SUVs and trucks.

The people of the Mahoning Valley are riding a wave of anxiety not only because the loss of 2,700 jobs has hit the region’s economy hard, but because GM has remained tight-lipped about the future.

Will the complex close after production of the Chevrolet Cruze ends, or will there be another product? The decision-makers in Detroit aren’t saying, which has prompted doomsday scenarios.

That brings us to the 67-year-old Air Force base in Vienna Township

The Youngstown Air Reserve Station is home to the 910th Airlift Wing that consists of three groups: operations, airlift and maintenance. In addition, there’s a medical squadron.

But most significantly, the 910th provides the Department of Defense’s only large area fixed-wing aerial spray capability to control disease-carrying insects, pest insects, undesirable vegetation and to disperse oil spills in large bodies of water.

The YARS has 1,600 military and civilian employees and generates $100 million in annual economic activity in the area.

To state the obvious, the huge military installation is one of the most important spokes of the Mahoning Valley’s economic wheel. Every federal dollar spent on the expansion or maintenance of facilities and on equipment is a dollar affirming Congress’ commitment to the base’s future.

Thus, the recent ribbon-cutting for the $8.5 million Combat Arms Training Management Firing Range represents a noteworthy investment by the federal government.

It’s not surprising that four members of Congress attended the ceremony: U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th; U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Reps. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th; and Jim Renacci of Wadsworth, R-16th.

Wing commander

Col. Dan Sarachene, commander of the 910th Airlift Wing, revealed just how interconnected the base is with the Valley when talking about local law- enforcement agencies benefiting from the firing range. YARS is negotiating agreements with the agencies to use the facility for training.

“Sharing the range is part of our community partnership plan,” Sarachene said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It is this partnership that should make YARS’ future a priority for the Valley. There must be sustained pressure on the Pentagon to keep investing in the base.

During a recent meeting with The Vindicator Editorial Board, Sen. Portman said the base is “doing well” with regard to federal funding. He noted that the 2019 Defense Department budget provides $8.8 million for security upgrades.

The main gate is to be relocated so as to improve the flow of people and cargo on and off the base. The goal is to meet stricter anti-terrorism standards.

While we welcome such investment, we are concerned that the Pentagon has not committed to modernizing the fleet of aircraft at YARS with the technologically advanced C-130J airplanes.

This refusal to commit flies in the face of the National Defense Authorization Act that instructs the Air Force to make the reserve station in the Mahoning Valley a priority.

The C-130H airplanes currently assigned to the base cannot be flown indefinitely. As a stopgap measure to replacing them with the C-130Js, the H models need to be updated with the new avionics maintenance package. Congress has allocated the money, so there’s no good reason for foot-dragging.

Ohio’s two senators, Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and the Valley’s two congressmen, Ryan and Johnson, have been vocal in their demand for the new aircraft, but they’ve been unable to secure a commitment from decision-makers in the DOD.

It defies logic that the federal government would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the base, but would fail to recognize that at its core, the Youngstown Air Reserve Station is about its flying missions. It needs the best aircraft and maintenance equipment to do its job well.

President Donald J. Trump has said he wants the military to have the most modern, technologically advanced equipment possible. He should be made aware of what’s not happening at YARS.