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Gannett News Service June 7, 2005

Pentagon: 179th too crowded

Lack of expansion room among reasons for recommended closing

By Greg Wright

WASHINGTON -- About 1,000 full and part-time military jobs in Mansfield are in danger primarily because the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield has less room to grow than its rivals in Toledo, Arkansas and Alabama, according to Pentagon documents.

One of several major criteria the Pentagon considered while determining which military bases to close or realign is whether the facility can accommodate growth. The base also must fit into the Pentagon's future defense strategy.

The Pentagon proposed disbanding the local Ohio Air National Guard last month and moving its eight C-130H transport planes to Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama and the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

Other support services now at Mansfield would go to the Louisville International Airport Air Guard Station in Kentucky and the Toledo Express Airport Air Guard Station.

However, local officials said Monday the ratings are wrong, since city officials offered the Pentagon access to 168 additional acres when military officials indicated expansion might be considered a factor. The 179th Airlift Wing currently is located on 227 acres.

Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Findlay, and local officials have said they would fight to keep transport planes at the 179th at Mansfield Lahm Airport. Gov. Bob Taft announced Monday he will give the Richland Economic Development Corp. $50,000 to promote the 179th.

But it's unlikely the independent Base Realignment and Closure commission would overturn the Pentagon's decision because of the facility's size, a military expert said.

"It's too small to worry about," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense analysis firm.

While some bases on the closure list could lose thousands of jobs, Pike said, the 179th has just 234 full time military and civilian workers. Still, local officials argue, the base is the seventh largest employer in north central Ohio, including around 650 part-time jobs held by "traditional" National Guard members.

The Pentagon claimed in environmental documents released this weekend the 179th has no room for growth. Little Rock can develop another 1,783 acres; Maxwell an additional 264 acres and Toledo has 45 acres, the Pentagon said. Only Louisville had zero acreage available, the Pentagon said.

Another factor in the Defense Department's base closing considerations was military value. Mansfield ranked lower in military value and capacity than other airlift bases, according to the Pentagon.

The top ranked airlift base is Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Mansfield ranked 119th out of 154 airlift bases behind Little Rock in 17th place; Maxwell, 21st; Louisville, 79th; and Toledo, 100th.

Local officials contend the 179th is still busy in the war on terrorism with its 35 deployments since Sept. 11, 2001. The facility is modern and there is room to house up to a dozen C-130H planes at the base, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Fred Larson, co-chair of the group fighting to save the 179th.

The Pentagon argues it has too many small Air National Guard units; its goal is to merge many with active-duty facilities, said Loren Thompson, a military expert at the Lexington Institute.

But the base closure panel, which is reviewing the Pentagon recommendations, could disagree and decide to keep national guard units such as the 179th open, Thompson said.

The nine-member commission must come up with a final closure list by Sept. 8.


Copyright 2005, Gannett News Service