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Published: Friday, 2/10/2012

Contingent from Ohio lobbies for fighter wing

Congressmen push to keep base at airport

U.S. Senator Rob Portman U.S. Senator Rob Portman

As the Pentagon gears up for budget cuts, much of Ohio's congressional delegation turned out Thursday to show support for maintaining military bases in Ohio, including the 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo Express Airport.

The last base realignment and closure process, or BRAC, ended in 2005, with the Air National Guard base in Swanton emerging unscathed, and actually with more employment.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said the 180th and its F16s have bipartisan support.

"We'll wait and see what they come up with," Mr. Portman said. "We don't have any sense yet from the Air Force. Yesterday in my discussions with them they did not indicate that they had made any decisions with regard to the 180th but again, they're doing a terrific job. We've got really great personnel, great assets. It's an important, valuable part of our military. So we're going to fight hard for it."

The Ohio congressmen met in Washington with the Ohio adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst.

The Air National Guard base now is split between the congressional districts of both U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green).

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur

However, the new congressional districts that take effect with the next Congress and for the next decade will put the Toledo Express Airport near Swanton entirely inside Mr. Latta's 5th District.

Miss Kaptur, who has a high-ranking position on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said, "a BRAC review puts all bases in the country on extra alert."

She said the 180th has a record of excellent performance and was recently upgraded with advanced energy-saving equipment. "It's the sort of base the military can't just walk away from. The performance of the base is superb and the Department of Defense knows that."

Miss Kaptur said Ohio needs to try to attract more Pentagon spending, and said the state has been short-changed despite its high recruitment and retention in the military.

"I'm fighting for a recognition that Ohio should play a greater role in some of the new missions. The missions tend to gravitate to the coasts," she said.

Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland), who is in a primary with Miss Kaptur to represent the newly drawn 9th District, said in the last round of base closings he was instrumental in saving 1,500 jobs at the Defense Finance and Accounting Services in Cleveland.

"We need to unify as a delegation to speak -- one for all and all for one -- to ensure that the interests of Ohio are protected throughout this process," Mr. Kucinich said. "We must also consider the economic needs of the communities that will be affected by this program."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Mr. Latta and U.S. Rep. James Jordan (R., Urbana) were also at the meeting.

The 180th dodged extensive cuts at military bases across the nation in 2005. Today, the base has about 1,000 personnel, including both full-time and weekend drill-status guardsmen, said Master Sgt. Elizabeth Holliker, superintendent of public affairs at the base.

"It's an ongoing process. This is just the beginning stage. Right now it's all about proposed budget cuts and trying to meet reductions in the budget as outlined in the budget control act that was released last year," Sergeant Holliker said.

A spokesman for Senator Portman said the goal of the meeting was to make sure the entire delegation is involved in ensuring all the military assets in Ohio are in the strongest possible condition.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058

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