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Pittsburgh Military, Political, Business Leaders Prepare To Battle To Preserve Bases

Congressional, military and community leaders are building their case to convince the Air Force to halt its planned closure of the 9-11th Air Lift Wing and sharp reductions at the 171st Air National Guard in Pittsburgh.

Members of the Congressional delegation from southwestern Pennsylvania met today with representatives of Military Affairs Coalition of Pittsburgh and the Chamber of Commerce to update efforts to preserve the air bases.

The Air Force proposed shutting down the 9-11th base by September of next year as part of a plan to trim overall costs by $8.7 billion. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) says if they want to cut they should look to the $200 billion dollars the pentagon spends annually on outside consultants and contractors.

"You cut that by 15% and over 10 years you end up with a $300 billion savings," Murphy said. "Why can that be cut? Because a uniformed person performing the same job is about one third the cost."

Major General Wesley Craig, the Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard, says that the Air Reserve and Air National Guard are much more cost-effective than active duty components. Craig says the Air National Guard makes up 7% of the Air Force budget but comprises nearly one-fifth of Air Force personnel and maintains 30-40% of the fighter, tanker and airlift capacity.

Murphy says the 9-11th and the 171st are two of the most cost effective bases in the military and the Air Force is looking to make quick decisions without documentation.

"I liken it to, if you go to the doctor and he says, 'You have to lose 10 pounds,' and you cut off your arm and say, 'There you go.' It doesn't make any sense but that's what the Air Force is essentially doing," Murphy said.

According to Murphy there are also logistical reasons for preserving the bases. "If we need to get medical supplies and providers to an area quickly, if there is any threat — military threat — if you're not right on the coast and if there are things that happen on the coast, your planes are protected but you are able to get there quickly," Murphy said.

Congressman Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) said that everyone recognizes that cuts must be made to the military budget. "The resources provided to the 911th from the surrounding area can't be matched anywhere in the country, and those resources are what allows the 911th to provide valuable services at a greater savings to the taxpayers," Altmire said. "Closing it now would be premature and ill-advised."

Air Force officials meet next week about the proposed closures and cutbacks.