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Rocky Mountain News Sentinel May 05, 2008

Booming times at Buckley

By Julie Hutchinson

Big changes loom for Buckley Air Force Base with the addition of hundreds of personnel and more than two dozen major construction projects in the works or planned.

"We are one of the fastest-growing Air Force bases in the country," said John Spann, of the base's public affairs office. "The missions here at Buckley are constantly changing."

Three years ago, the federal panel that decides the fate of military installations recommended only a modest expansion for Buckley. The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission envisioned that only 13 additional civilian jobs and 81 military jobs would end up at the base in Aurora.

But as threats to America's security have changed, so, too, has Buckley, which is a key player in the military's global surveillance and missile warning network.

In addition to Air Force personnel, the base is home to so-called "tenant units" representing every branch of the U.S. armed services, including the Coast Guard. Some simply occupy office space at Buckley; others are involved in complex cross-training and mission-sharing.

John E. Pike, director of Virginia-based GlobalSecurity.org, is a frequent commentator on space and security issues. Citing increasing security threats around the globe, as well as ongoing U.S. military actions, Pike said Buckley is a key player in the nation's defense and it's not surprising that the base is growing.

In an environmental assessment required by law to study how growth will affect the base and its neighbors, the Air Force described Buckley as "transforming from a minimally developed installation for weekend influxes of Reserve and Guard personnel into a fully developed, active-duty AFB."

Since 2000, 19 major construction projects have been completed. In 2007 alone, projects at Buckley totaled $37 million, Air Force officials said.

And more growth is in the works:

* An additional 800 people will be assigned to Buckley over the next three years, a combination of enlisted, private and contractor jobs. That includes about 600 workers at the Air Force Air Reserve Personnel Center near Lowry who will move to Buckley by 2011.

"If you're bringing people, you have to guesstimate you're bringing multiple family members as well," said Aaron Cram, a technical sergeant in Buckley's public affairs office.

* Three additional F-16 aircraft will be based at Buckley, home to the Colorado Air National Guard.

* Entry gates at Sixth Avenue, Telluride Street and Mississippi Avenue will be demolished and rebuilt with improved security, traffic control and landscaping.

* A 3,000-square-foot visitors center will be built at the main gate on Sixth Avenue.

* An $11 million communications center will open in August.

Also planned: a $30 million building for temporary lodging, a $1.42 million kennel for military dogs, a $5.5 million training center and a $10.7 fuel-distribution complex "required to accommodate the new development," according to the Air Force.

The ripple effect of Buckley's evolution extends far into the metro-area economy.

How the growth affects Aurora, according to Mayor Ed Tauer, "is a two-word answer: It's fabulous. We've had a long-term love affair with that base."

The added military and civilian jobs are great for the local economy, Tauer said, but it's the quality of people the jobs attract that matters more.

He mentioned strong families and people who volunteer, stay informed and care about improving the quality of life in the city.

"To get the extra jobs is great, but more important, it says the Air Force has a long-term commitment to Buckley," Tauer said.

About Buckley

* Name: Buckley Air Force Base is named after 1st Lt. John Harold Buckley, a World War I flier from Longmont.

* Size: About 3,328 acres.

* Personnel: Home to more than 10,000 men and women who provide commanders with global surveillance, worldwide missile warnings, homeland defense and expeditionary forces.

* Jobs:The Air Force estimates Buckley indirectly created more than 6,000 jobs and spent $37 million on service contracts in 2007.

* Payroll: More than $624 million.

* Additional people: At least 800 by 2011, with three additional F-16s.


Copyright 2008, The E.W. Scripps Co.