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Gannett News Service July 2, 2005

BRAC request gives hope to 179th

WASHINGTON -- A base closure panel said Friday it wants the Pentagon to provide more information on the proposed closure or restructuring of Air National Guard units, encouraging Ohio officials who are trying to keep the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield alive.

"I think our hopes are much higher than they have been in the last month and half," said Mike Greene, co-chairman of a group in Ohio's Richland County that is pressing to keep the 179th open.

The Pentagon in May said it wants to close the 179th and move its eight C-130H transport planes to bases in Arkansas and Alabama. But local officials and lawmakers such as Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Findlay, objected, saying the region's economy would suffer because the base supports more than 1,000 jobs.

The independent Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission is reviewing the Pentagon recommendations. The nine-member commission will come up with a final base closure and realignment tally by Sept. 8 and could remove some bases on the original Pentagon list.

The commission on Friday also announced it has added more than a dozen facilities to the list of those it wants to review. The release of the list is a necessary first step for the panel to add any closings to those recommended by the Pentagon in May.

Facilities the commission wants to know more about include Air National Guard units. In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the commission asked whether state governors and state adjutant generals were consulted about plans to close or realign the facilities.

The commission also wants to know if Air National Guard changes could hamper homeland defense and homeland security missions.

The fact that the commission is asking such questions is encouraging, Oxley and Greene said. During a BRAC meeting on Monday in Buffalo, Oxley and Ohio officials argued that closing the 179th could hurt Air National Guard recruitment in north central Ohio.

Falling recruitment in turn would threaten national security, military experts say.

"This was one of the issues that Congressman Oxley raised in his testimony in front of the BRAC commissioners in Buffalo on Monday," Oxley's spokesman Tim Johnson said via e-mail. "It's a reason why Mr. Oxley feels the original recommendation to disband the 179th Airlift Wing was flawed."

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense analysis firm, said Mansfield folks should be cautiously optimistic.

"I don't know if it is a significant improvement, but I would say it is at least a possibility," Pike said when asked whether the commission questions indicate they are leaning toward not closing or restructuring some Air National Guard units.

The commission decided to ask the questions partly because of what they have heard in regional meetings like the one in Buffalo, Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said in a July 1 letter to congressional members.

Principi noted the commission has not finished its review work and has not decided to close or realign any facilities. "They are just looking for more information," BRAC spokesman Robert McCreary said.

Copyright 2005, Gannett News Service