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Westover Base Facing Cuts To Fleet, Jobs

US Air Force

Air Force officials say half of the 16 giant C-5 cargo planes based currently at the Westover Air Force Reserve base in Chicopee will be transferred to a base in Texas resulting in the loss of 300 jobs. The cuts were announced in a press release this morning. Brig General Steven Vautrain, who is the commander of the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover, is scheduled to hold a news conference shortly on the base.

The press release blamed the cuts on the budget deal approved by Congress late last year that calls for reducing the defense budget by $487 billion over the next eight years. The cuts at Westover are expected to  take place in 2015.

Kimberly Babin, the director of Veteran's Services for the city of Chicopee, and herself a retired Air Force reserve officer at  Westover, said the cuts are not a big surprise given the current climate of austerity at the Air Force.

Massachusetts has been worried for several years about the impact Pentagon downsizing might have on the state's six military bases. Governor Deval Patrick in 2012 created a task force to work with local government and business leaders on ways to preserve the bases. Former Massachusetts Senator Mo Cowan now heads the task force. The Massachusetts Legislature approved a $177 million bond bill to pay for improvements at the six bases.

A report from the UMass Donahue Institute said the military bases are worth $14 billion annually to the state's economy and provide employment directly and indirectly for 45,000 people.  The Westover Air Force Reserve base has about 5,000 full and part-time employees. It and the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, with about a thousand employees, combine to make it the region's fifth largest employer.

Westover played a major support role in ferrying troops and supplies for thw wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also the major east coast staging area for FEMA to distribute emergency supplies during natural disasters. It played that role most recently during Superstorm Sandy.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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