Massachusetts Officials Begin Campaign To Save Military Bases
By Paul Tuthill
Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray launched a tour of military bases across the state to build grassroots support for the facilities, beginning Friday at the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield. After a tour , where base officials pointed out millions of dollars in new construction that's taken place at the base in recent years, Murray met with local political and business leaders, military officers, and congressional staffers to highlight the bases strategic and economic importance.
Murray said the brainstorming over how to deal with another possible round of base closures started roughly a year ago. The Obama administration is expected to ask congress to authorize a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) next year. With big cuts in military spending are inevitable, so Murray said the message to Pentagon decision makers is that the Massachusetts facilities are plenty lean and efficient.
Air Force Officials, Friday, announced plans to downsize the fleet of giant C-5 cargo jets at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. The number of C-5's based at Westover will be cut in half..from 16 to 8 by 2016 under this proposal. The impact on staffing at Westover is unclear. A press release said the Air Force would announce manpower changes in the next few weeks.
The base in Westfield is home to the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Wing. The F-15 jets provide round the clock air defense for the entire northeast, according to Major General L. Scott Rice, commander of the Mass. Air National Guard.
The economic impact of the base is huge in western Massachusetts. A study released last year by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said Barnes is responsible for 16 hundred jobs with an annual economic impact put at 111 million dollars. Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik credits the military base as a catalyst for economic development. He points to the decision by General Dynamics to build a 23 million dollar service facility for corporate jets on the civilian side of the airport.
Richard Sullivan, who is the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs was the mayor of Westfield the last time Barnes was threatened with possible closure in 2005. The base survived then, was given a new mission, and has since won accolades from the Pentagon for its operations.
In addition to the two military bases in western Massachusetts, Barnes and Westover, there are two air bases in eastern Massachusetts. There is an Army National Guard base at Devans in central Massachusetts and a research center in Natick.