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Advocates Tout $108M Economic Impact of Air Base

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — David Christner remembers how a past commander of the of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township once told him that residents of nearby Brookfield whom he encountered didn’t realize there was an air base in the area.

“They thought the planes just came in and circled around for practice and then left,” he recalled. Such misconceptions make it imperative that people understand the existence of the air base — as well as the 910th Airlift Wing and its C-130 aircraft stationed there — and its “prominent effect in our community,” he said.

Christner serves on the executive committee of the YARS Base Community Council, which promotes the base and its functions to the public. He joined Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr., superintendent of the 910th Airlift Wing public affairs office, Wednesday in addressing the weekly meeting of the Youngstown Rotary Club.

The base represents $1 billion in federal assets and had an economic impact last year of $108 million, Barko said. It’s home to the Department of Defense’s only large-area fixed-wing aerial spray mission; its tasks including spraying for insects and eliminating weeds on bombing ranges, as well as cleaning and containing oil spills.

“We are the most lethal weapons system in the entire Department of Defense,” Barko said. “We kill millions of mosquitoes on every mission.”

Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr. issuperintendent of the 910th Airlift Wing’s public affairs office.

In addition, the wing has a tactical airlift mission, carrying troops and supplies. “The C-130 is the Air Force’s pickup truck,” he said.

With nearly 1,900 personnel assigned to YARS, the base has reservists from 26 states and touches several more with its aerial spray mission. Of those personnel, about 70% reside within 70 miles of the base.

Composed of individuals, business leaders and organizations, the Base Community Council was formed 35 years ago, Christner said. It supports the base in three ways: working to maintain the base as it exists today; improving and enhancing the base wherever possible, such as advocating for additional planes and additional missions; and by providing support for “the men and women from the Mahoning Valley who work at the air station and support our freedoms every day,” he said.

Its advocacy includes participating in events such as the Columbus Drive-In sponsored by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber in April and the upcoming Washington, D.C. Fly-In.

During the first Fly-In last year, participants met with members of Congress and personnel from the Department of Defense. “To a T, every one of them said, ‘Where have you been?’ Everybody else who has a major military asset in their community has been here over and over again,” Christner said.

He expressed his satisfaction that there is finally a cabinet-level state official representing military assets in Ohio in retired Air Force Col. Joe Zeis.

The council’s efforts are justified by the base’s economic impact, which has shrunk with the number of aircraft stationed there. Eight years ago, when there were 16 C-130s stationed there, the base’s economic impact was $240 million.

“We cannot let that slide continue, so now is the time for all of us to proactively step up,” he said.

Legislation approved by the House Appropriations Committee last month includes $300 million for four C-130J aircraft. Although there is no guarantee that YARS will get those modern planes, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, is confident the base is well positioned to secure them with its unique mission, Barko said.

The immediate focus of the council and other airbase supporters is on getting Camp James A. Garfield Joint Military Training Center in Ravenna selected for a proposed East Coast Missile Defense Site. It is one of three locations reportedly under consideration for the $3.6 billion project. The 2019 Missile Defense Review, released in January, was expected to name a site but left unresolved a determination on whether the site is needed at all.

“It’s rumored that the decision was made but not allowed to be made public,” Christner.

Whether people like or dislike President Donald Trump, “the bottom line is the man made a commitment to the Mahoning Valley,” he continued. While he attempted to help the General Motors Lordstown plant but was unsuccessful, he remains the commander-in-chief.

“He could step up right now and say put these planes back at YARS,” he said.

Pictured above: Formed 35 years ago, the main duty of the YARS Base Community Council to support air base and advocate for its impact, said David Christner, who sits on the council’s executive committee.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.