Community Council Supports Reservists on Base and Off

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Whether by providing household supplies, financial support or education opportunities, the citizen airmen at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station can always count on the support of their local community council, just as they have the past four decades.

“We can do things the base can’t,” says Youngstown Municipal Judge Robert Milich, secretary for the Youngstown Air Reserve Base Community Council and a former reservist stationed there. “They’re in the military and limited politically. We can go out and raise funds, which we do, and provide assistance to people at the base.”

That support takes many forms. The base community council helped organize the Airmen’s Attic at the base, which stocks donated home supplies for the reservists to take with them.

The council organized the two Freedom Warriors funds – the Freedom Warriors Airshow Fund and the Freedom Warriors Charitable Fund – at the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. Both support wounded and disabled veterans in the region.

The council created the Alberini Memorial Scholarship, named for longtime council member and restaurateur Richard Alberini. The $2,500 scholarship is given to two students – either YARS reservists or their children – attending Youngstown State University.

“You’re going to have good times and sometimes you’re going to get thrown a curveball,” says 910th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Daniel Sarachene, who’s spent most of his career at the station. “It’s nice to have that damper and our community council provides that support.”

And, the council works to communicate the mission of the air station, and its impact, to the community.

“It affects a lot of people, which means we can educate a lot of people, even through little things,” Milich says. “The base provides crash fire rescue at the airport. If that base closes, the airport has to close unless they can come up with a couple of million [dollars] for firefighters.”

Created as a 501(c)4 entity to support the reservists stationed at the base, the community council is a nonprofit organization allowed to participate in politics as long as that doesn’t become its primary purpose. That enables the group to meet with political leaders and lobby for the base. Over the years, the council has also played a role in keeping the base open.

Before Milich’s time there in the early 1970s, Lt. Col. Chester Amedia, base commander from 1964 to 1969, was close to U.S. Rep. Michael Kirwan, which gave the air station some clout in Washington. But with the introduction of the base realignment and closure, or BRAC, commission in the 1990s, the Youngstown Air Reserve Station had to make its case.

Before the most recent BRAC round in 2005, the council was involved in Operation SOAR – Save Our Air Reservists – a grassroots campaign to help the base.

“There are a lot of things people don’t agree on. But we’ve never had anyone say we don’t need the base,” Judge Milich says. “We got the key leaders in the community with people from the council as liaisons. We’d get together and speak to provide support. It brought together a lot of people from all walks of life.”

As part of its lobbying, the council supported former wing commander Col. James Dignan in meeting with officeholders who represented both the Mahoning Valley and the areas where the 910th Airlift Wing has operated.

More recently, the Youngstown Air Base Community Council has worked to promote and raise funds for the station, including hosting an annual golf outing and playing a major role in marketing and organizing the Thunder Over the Valley air show.

“There’s a lot of personal contact,” says Paul O’Brien, president of the council and of Rien Construction in Brookfield. “People hear about this and that, but they don’t really know how important the base is to this area, [both for the] military and economically.”

O’Brien was also stationed at the air station.

Today, membership in the community council sits at around 130, with the geographic area stretching across northeastern Ohio and into western Pennsylvania. To join, sponsorship from two current members is required along with a brief statement about how the applicant can contribute to the council.

“We’re looking at getting people involved to promote the station, O’Brien says.

Among O’Brien’s efforts is working with businesses so they better understand the citizen airmen they employ. By forging and strengthening the bonds between Youngstown Air Reserve Station and the community, O’Brien and Milich agree, the base is better positioned to achieve its mission.

“Working together is what makes things happen,” O’Brien says. “And when you’re supporting each other, it just makes things click.”

Pictured, top: Paul O’Brien, owner of Rien Construction in Brookfield, is president of the Youngstown Air Reserve Base Community Council and a former reservist at the station.

Pictured, bottom: Youngstown Municipal Judge Robert Milich is the council’s secretary and, like O’Brien, a former reservist at YARS.

Editor’s Note: This story was published in the MidJune issue of The Business Journal as part of our Air Station Salute. Leading up to the Thunder Over the Valley air show, we’ll be sharing stories from Youngstown Air Reserve Station. To purchase a copy of our Air Station Salute issue, click here.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.