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Published: Wednesday, 3/9/2005

Officials lobby to preserve the 180th

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In this time of war and lagging recruitment, the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing has a surplus of recruits, one of several reasons to save it from being shuttered by a federal base closing commission, local officials said.

The Guard unit, located at Toledo Express Airport, is 4 percent over its limit, a Toledo-area lobbying group told Philip Grone, a U.S. Department of Defense undersecretary.

Mr. Grone gave a local delegation about 20 minutes in a Pentagon conference room yesterday to persuade him the Guard base - home to a unit of F-16s - should not be closed as part of a federal process to trim 20 to 25 percent of the country's military facilities.

"Our argument really was that the excellence of the unit demands special attention by the secretary of defense," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, Toledo), who was at the meeting.

"Guard and recruitment levels are down ... [in the country], but this is a region that continues to have people to serve," she said.

This is the fifth and final round of closings authorized in the federal legislation that created the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC. This is the first round to include National Guard bases.

Mr. Grone is part of the Defense Department team creating an initial list of recommended closings to save $7 billion a year.

If the 180th and its 1,343 jobs were lost, the region's economy would lose $70 million a year, according to Guard figures, a fact that mobilized the local lobbying group.

The contingent included Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Old Fort, Ohio), Miss Kaptur, and Mark V'Soske, president of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. V'Soske said the lobbying group's timing was perfect, according to Mr. Grone.

"We only had 15 or 20 minutes, and we hit the high points. The briefing was very timely for him, he told us. The list comes out May 16, and they're right in the heat of it. [He told us] we were not too early, and we're not too late," Mr. V'Soske said.

"We talked about the fact that the base is at 104 percent manned; our retention rate is high. They keep getting recruits and other people signing up," he said.

Mr. Grone gave no indication of the base's chance. "He was pretty tight-lipped," Mr. V'Soske said.

After the list is made public, it goes to the independent realignment and closure commission, which will submit a final list to the White House by Sept. 8. If President Bush accepts the list, then Congress can vote it up or down. There is no altering the list after the commission has finished its work.

President Bush and congressional leaders are close to announcing their selections for new members of the commission. Commission membership changes after each round of closings.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.



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