KING / BLADE Enlarge
In last year's State of the State address, Gov. Bob Taft talked about saving Ohio's military from a federal base closing commission and mentioned the state's major installations except Swanton's 180th Fighter Wing.
Aghast, Toledo-area officials, admitting they were asleep on the issue, started a process to save the Ohio Air National Guard base at Toledo Express Airport. The gubernatorial oversight underscored the amount of public relations work that lay ahead of them.
The Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce formed a local committee, started to raise money, and hired a lobbying firm.
Now, a year since the 2004 speech, the committee is giving away navy blue magnets in the shape of F-16s, which are stationed at the base, that say "Retain the Toledo Air Guard."
Committee members also have taken a lobbying trip to Washington and created a public relations package to sell the base as necessary for national security.
"We did some inquiry and learned about [the closings process] ... Now, we're up to par on it," said Mark V'Soske, president of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce. "[The magnets are] just a small piece of it. It's what we are trying to do is to get the community to understand the value of the base."
This is the fifth and final round of closings authorized in federal legislation that created the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, Commission. The U.S. Department of Defense said 20 to 25 percent of U.S. military installations will be closed at a savings of $7 billion a year. This is the first round to include National Guard bases. A preliminary list is due out May 16.
If the base and its 1,343 jobs were lost, the region's economy would lose $70 million a year, according to Guard figures.
"[Governor Taft] mentioned all of the installations and failed to mention ours. It sent up a red flag," said Steve Katich, staff director for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo). "While we were a little late in organizing, we haven't wasted any time in getting a good [lobbying] package together."
There will be closures. Not everyone can be saved. But Toledo area boosters said the Swanton base has a compelling story. It is among the newest and most modern. During the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 180th and its F-16s were the first responders to the plane that ultimately crashed in Pennsylvania.
Loma Linda's restaurant, which relies on the base for lunch business, asks patrons for a $5 donation in exchange for a magnet. The money goes toward the $200,000-plus lobbying effort, led by the Washington firm Cassidy & Associates.
ProMedica Health System, which has one of its ProMedica Air helicopters based at Toledo Express, is placing magnets on the back of nonemergency vehicles, said Jenny Goldberg, media relations manager for ProMedica.
After the Secretary of Defense sends his preliminary list to the commission by May 16, the commission must send its list to the President by Sept. 8.
If the President approves it, Congress has 45 days to accept or reject it. It's an up-or-down vote; neither the President nor Congress can alter it. But the commission can change the list up until Oct. 20. In theory, the process was set up by Congress to be nonpartisan and independent.
Magnets are available at www.retain180th.com.
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick