Portman, Ryan, Johnson: Air Base Deserves Support

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says he’s confused as to why the Youngstown Air Reserve Station – home of the 910th Airlift Wing — isn’t getting the support it deserves from Washington.

“It’s indispensible to our military,” Portman said of the base and the 910th as he addressed members of the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission at the air station Thursday afternoon. “The work that the YARS is doing is incredible.”

But Portman, running for re-election against former Gov. Ted Strickland, says that the base’s aircraft are antiquated and need to be replaced with more modern units. “Our pilots and crew need the best equipment,” he said, “so we’ve been pushing for that for a long time.”

Portman noted that he and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are jointly promoting this issue before the Obama administration, and that it’s critical that the equipment shortcomings at the base be addressed.

“I’m really impressed with the base and all they’re doing,” the junior senator from Ohio said, “but we need a little help from Washington to give them the tools they need to do the job.”

The 910th is the sole aerial spray unit in the entire U.S. Air Force, yet it’s allocated eight C-130H aircraft that were commissioned during the late 1980s and 1990s. And, some of the on-board avionics and equipment date back to at least the Vietnam era, if not much earlier, Portman said.

The senator pointed out that some of the equipment and parts used on the C-130Hs are so old that they are no longer manufactured. They have to be custom machined and produced at the base. “That’s not fair,” Portman said, “so we’re pushing hard to modernize the aircraft.”

A replacement aircraft – the C-130J – is a much more modern plane with an all-glass cockpit outfitted with the latest avionics technology, adds Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr., superintendent of public affairs at the 910th.

The price tag for these new aircraft is steep – roughly $67 million each, Barko says. Absent this, the other option is to upgrade the equipment on the eight C-130Hs at the base, which is also expensive.

Second, Portman said, that the 910th isn’t being used to its fullest capacity. He wrote the secretary of the Air Force Thursday questioning why there was no aerial spray segment is in the latest budget.

When the 910th isn’t deployed overseas, it conducts spray missions to control mosquitos and other forms of infestation, Portman said. The 910th could be active in combatting the Zika virus, for example, by killing the very insects that transmit the disease.

“We want to be sure that the 910th is engaged and involved in helping to solve a big national problem,” Portman told reporters.

Spray missions are usually carried out in late summer – August or September. However this September, some aircraft from the 910th are scheduled for deployment to the Middle East, leaving the base strapped for spray missions.

“It would leave them shorthanded,” he said.

Joining Portman at the event were the two congressmen who represent the Mahoning Valley, Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, who both expressed their support for the air base and are working together to ensure the operation gets full attention from Washington.

“This base is a great asset for us,” Ryan emphasized. “We want to position this base when it comes to federal dollars being spent — investments being made in the Air Force at large — to be able to get resources pumped into this base.”

Heartening is that there’s no indication that a base realignment and closure, or BRAC, commission is on the horizon, Ryan said. However, it’s important to secure every resource possible to ensure upgrades at the base.

“We want to make sure this base has the facilities and the mission needed to withstand any future BRAC,” the congressmen said.

Ryan, who sits on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, said the Air Force has included a request for eight C-130J aircraft for YARS on its list of unfunded priorities.

“So, it’s on their wish list,” Ryan said, acknowledging that the process can take years. “The key is to make sure that we are positioned properly and starting on that unfunded priorities list.”

Another possibility, Ryan said, is to partner specialty missions with other federal agencies. “It would be advantageous to this mission here,” he said.

Johnson, a former Air Force officer whose congressional district includes portions of Boardman and Poland, said Ohio’s delegation is aggressive when it comes to advocating for its military installations.

He praised the air reserve station and its involvement in surrounding communities, and its role in creating the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission with organizations such as the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.

“We’re in the throes of the budget cycle, and Congressman Ryan and I have worked hard to make sure that we’ve sent a strong signal,” Johnson said.

Military readiness is the No. 1 responsibility of the U.S. government, he continued. “We’re not going to support a budget or appropriations bill that does not provide funding for our military.”

Spearheaded by the Regional Chamber, the Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission was formed two years ago to help develop a collective community voice to highlight the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and other military bases in eastern Ohio.

More than 1,800 are employed at the base, making it the fourth-largest employer in the Mahoning Valley. Studies have shown that the base has an economic impact of about $108 million a year in the Mahoning Valley.

Over the years, the base has established first-responder relationships with 23 communities, has logged 10,000 or more hours of mentorship hours with groups such as Junior Achievement of Mahoning Valley, and last year entered into a blight removal program with the city of Youngstown.

Such community organizations as the Military Affairs Commission are critical to promoting and securing the future of these military installations in the Mahoning Valley, added Vito Abruzzino, executive director of the commission.

“Places such as Florida, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, Louisiana – all these places have these types of organizations that are out there defending their DOD assets every single day,” Abruzzino said. “Eastern Ohio really didn’t have that, and the chamber made it happen.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.