by Susan Mikula Campbell
In the wake of news last week that federal cuts are likely to mean the 107th Airlift Wing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station will lose its aircraft, the Niagara Military Affairs Council already is concentrating on helping find a new mission for the Air National Guard unit.
Merrell Lane, NIMAC chairman, said the expected loss of three C-130 aircraft at the base would leave the 107th with no mission.
"We're working at the Pentagon and at other levels to try to find another mission for the 107th - not necessarily aircraft - but still at the Niagara Falls base," he said.
"Although we were not happy with the announcement, it did not come as a total surprise to us. We have known since 2005 that the protection of the end strength and manpower of the 107th would expire in November of 2011," said NIMAC Vice Chairman John Cooper. "We have continued since that time to promote the idea of new or additional missions for the 107th. We have discussed the potential of an ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) mission at Niagara."
The Air National Guard's 914th Airlift Wing at the base is expected to continue its mission with eight newer C-130 aircraft.
If another mission isn't found for the 107th, however, the unit could end up being disbanded, Lane said.
That could mean the loss of about 800 jobs, plus the loss of services provided to the surrounding community and the Niagara Falls International Airport such as fire/ rescue and runway maintenance and repair now provided by the 914th.
"They're good people out there, and we as a community have to support them," said Lane.
The base currently is Niagara County's largest employer with close to 3,500 jobs, a payroll of $88 million and an estimated economic impact on the area of $168 million, according to Lane.
Lane and Cooper were in Washington, D.C., last week to meet with the local congressional delegation and Pentagon officials.
"At this time there has been no official announcement concerning a future mission or lack thereof for the 107th Airlift Wing," Cooper said. "We will continue our efforts to either preserve the existing airlift mission or support efforts to find a new mission."
This week, Lane already was at a Niagara Falls City Council meeting on Monday and at a Niagara County Legislature meeting on Tuesday. He's looking for more funding so that NIMAC can rehire its Washington lobbyist, who has been working on a pro bono basis.
Currently, the towns of Wheatfield, Niagara, Lockport, Lewiston and Cambria, the Village of Youngstown, Niagara Falls and Niagara County have some funds in their budgets to support the base.
Lane also intends to approach Erie County, since many members of the units come from there as well.
"Wheatfield pays NiMAC $5,000 per year supporting our most important and largest employer," Wheatfield Supervisor Bob Cliffe said. "The good news is we will still have a good sized mission here in Niagara Falls, which could be ramped up in the future quickly. The bad news, with less planes they need less people to get them up and keep them up."
According to NIMAC, New York has the largest air guard representation in the nation with five wings and a personnel authorization for more than 6,000 air guardsmen, 5,745 currently serving, so proposals of budget cuts did not come as a surprise.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on Jan. 26 that budget cuts would be necessary.
"It is also important to keep in mind that these are proposals by the Department of Defense and not written into law at this time," Cooper said. "It is not over by any means. As we move forward we ask that the public remain patient and confident that we will do what we can to assist our federal and state delegations in their efforts."
Lane noted that currently most of the action is at the congressional level, but at some point NIMAC will again be asking the community to throw its support behind the base as it did with the last BRAC (Base Realignment and Closures) in 2005. Another BRAC is expected to come in 2013 or 2014, and possibly a second one in 2017, he said.