The Niagara Military Affairs Council is wasting no time in the wake of a Jan. 26 announcement by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that could again put the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in danger of closing.
NIMAC Chairman Merrell Lane and Vice Chairman John A. Cooper Sr. will travel to Washington, D.C., next week for meetings with the Pentagon and the local Congressional delegation.
The airbase, with the help successful campaigns by NIMAC, survived BRAC (Base Realignment & Closures) in 1995 and 2005. The base is Niagara County's largest employer with more than 2000 employees.
"We must assume that we will once again be a potential target," Lane said. "This announcement comes at a time when our neighbors and friends have been continuously deployed overseas to support the defense of our country and our region has faced significant economic challenges. We must take all appropriate steps to defend the base which is the largest employer in the county."
Panetta announced that he will seek Congressional approval to conduct two new rounds of BRACs to meet budgetary cuts that reduce defense spending by nearly $500 billion in the next 10 years.
After the 2005 BRAC, the 914th Airlift Wing (Air Force Reserve) and 107the Airlift Wing (Air National Guard) were linked to conduct C-130 operations in a formal association. It is only the second Guard-Reserve association in place in the Air Force, and operational readiness inspections have shown it to be a success, according to NIMAC. The base currently has 12 C-130s. The Air Force plans to retire 65 of its C-130s, which could affect the Niagara Falls base.
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, NY-28, has been a staunch supporter of the base during the BRAC fights and afterwards, bringing in federal funds for improvements.
She and Rep. Kathy Hochul, NY-26, announced Friday that they will fight on behalf of the base.
"We know how difficult defense cutbacks and BRAC Commissions are because of all the work it took in 2005 to save the base," said Slaughter. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Niagara Falls Air Base deserves to be the crown jewel of the Air Force. I've been proud to join my colleagues in conversations about the importance of the air base for Western New York and the United States military."
"The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is an important part of the military, our nation's national security, and the Western New York community," said Hochul. "As a new member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have already held personal meetings with senior military officials, and have communicated with the administration about the importance of this installation."
Cooper said NIMAC will continue to work with those who support retention of the base.
"We will once again do all that we can, along with concerned citizens, state and local government, as well as the delegation, to make sure the Pentagon understands the high military value of the base and the two wings there," he said.