Front Page Good News 2/14/2012 --- Obama plan bodes well for Falls air base
Front Page Bad News 2/15/2012 --- Units at Falls base... future stays unclear
President Obama on Monday unveiled an election year budget proposal that offers some surprising news for the Buffalo area, including a $28.1 million simulator project at the supposedly endangered Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station...
At the same time the Pentagon is planning to invest $28.1 million at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, military leaders have put forth a plan that could cut nearly 850 jobs there.
...the funding targeted for the Niagara Falls base seems particularly solid.
Congress set aside $22 million last year for a new simulator to train Air Force Reserve pilots in the Northeast on how to fly C-130 cargo planes, but the Air Force never announced where that simulator would go until Monday.
It's the only Air Force Reserve construction project in the entire budget — and it's the project Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, has been advocating for years as a lifesaver for the base.
But entirely separate from that, Air Force officials in Washington -- under pressure to cut spending -- decided to end the ties between the Air Guard unit at Niagara and the Air Reserve unit there, military sources said.
The move leaves the Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing without a mission, thereby endangering 845 jobs, including 580 part-time Guard members.
"This facility is expected to bring 400 military personnel and their dependents to our region annually [for training], which is exactly why I have been fighting for this project," Slaughter said. "This news couldn't come at a better time for the thousands of employees who rely on the Niagara air base."
But New York's two senators and its House members are operating under the assumption that the 107th will have to get a new mission in order to survive.
And they're taking their case for bringing another Guard mission to the base as high as they can take it.
New York's two senators and Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, recently met with the secretary of the Air Force to discuss the matter.
Nevertheless, Cooper [vice chairman of the Niagara Military Affairs Council] said he was thrilled with the simulator project, which base supporters long have seen as an asset that might just save the base from the ax to be wielded by future base-closure commissions.
"This is huge," Cooper said. "I say that from the perspective that it makes us special. ... And when you have something like this, it's not easily movable."
There are five flying units of the Air National Guard in New York, more than any other state, Lane [head of the Niagara Military Affairs Council] explained.
"That makes us a target on the Guard side," he said.
Tuesday, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y, raised the possibility of bringing a new mission to Niagara at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta testified.
"We would love to gain missions, particularly with the Air National Guard/Reserve training, with unmanned aircraft and with cyber," Gillibrand told Panetta.
All that's known for sure is that the Pentagon's 10-year budget-cutting plan released earlier this month would, in 2013, end the mid-2000s deal that tied the 107th to the 914th Mission Support Group, the reserve unit at the Falls air base. By doing that, the budget plan would strip the 107th of its three C-130 cargo planes.