Portman Urges More Security at ‘Soft’ Military Targets

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – In the wake of Thursday’s shootings in Chattanooga, Tenn., U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says security needs to be upgraded at “soft” domestic military targets.

He made his remarks Friday morning at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, saying such upgrades would help ensure that the deaths of those in the military, naval and air force don’t happen here.

“We need to make sure they are more hardened,” he remarked.

As he toured the Youngstown Air Reserve Station Portman declared that the shootings at a recruitment center and nearby Naval Reserve Centre were an act of domestic terrorism.

“I know the military is not calling it a terrorist act yet,” he told reporters, “but I am today.” The attack was one in a range of topics Portman addressed.

“I don’t know all the specifics,” the junior senator from Ohio began, “but from what I was told this morning when I was briefed by my staff and saw the media reports, it sounds like that this is clearly a terrorist act. It’s domestic terrorism and we shouldn’t call it anything else and we should deal with it.”

The air base in Vienna Township maintains a “well-guarded perimeter” but “all of us have to be aware of our surroundings and our environment,” said Col. James Dignan, base commander.

“We have difficult times with homegrown terrorism and folks that are going to act out badly,” Dignan said. You just have to be aware of it and we have to do what we can to prevent it. But it’s not going to stop us from doing our business, from wearing the uniform and being the proud airmen that we are.”

One of the first people to question Dignan regarding the deaths of four marines in Tennessee was one of the four recruiters he has in northeastern Ohio, he said. They have “always been a concern” because they tend to operate by themselves, he pointed out.

The 910th Airlift Wing, based in Vienna, does “incredible work” across the country and around the world, Portman said. In Washington, he said, he has worked to protect the mission and modernize its aircraft. He has been successful in getting legislation passed in support of that goal, he said.

“We’re pushing the Air Force to move forward with that. We think these planes ought to be replaced with more modern C-130s,” Portman said.

In particular, the C-130 aircraft there need updated avionics to permit them to fly in certain areas beyond 2020. If language upgrading the avionics doesn’t make it into the final Defense authorization bill, recapitalization – getting new, upgraded aircraft — would be another option, Dignan said.

“That really would be ideal because that’ll keep us well beyond 2020 … to 2050 and beyond,” he stated.

Because of the age of the equipment in use, parts for planes in the aerial spray unit are difficult to obtain, so base airmen often fabricate their own replacements in their machine shop. “It’s sort of classic of Youngstown,” Portman said.

During his visit, Portman saw plans for the planned indoor firing range that would replace the outdoor range, which is at least 30 years old. Funds for the upgraded firing range — $9.4 million — were included in the Senate-passed fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act and the Senate Appropriations Bill for Military Construction.

Once built, the indoor firing range, which would allow military personnel to use ammunition and larger weapons they cannot use in the open-air range, would also be available for training exercises for local law enforcement agencies.

“Right now we’re in the design phase,” Dignan said. Once Congress authorizes funding and the president signs it, the commander hopes to have a spring groundbreaking for the project, which should take 12 to 10 months to build.

Work is progressing as well on another joint project with the local community, Attorneys were completing the details of an agreement that would put reservists to work taking down abandoned homes as part of a blight remediation project in the city of Youngstown, Dignan said.

Later, when meeting with reporters, Portman also commented on the deal reached with Iran earlier this week to curb its nuclear program.

As one of 47 GOP senators who earlier this year sent a letter to Iran’s leadership that the Obama Administration and its allies criticized as undermining the negotiations, Portman said he was still reading the lengthy documents but has concerns.

“I have yet to find the kind of language that I’m looking for that says you can have anywhere, anytime inspections,” he said. “If you can’t monitor what they’re doing in Iran and you can’t have consequences when they do not carry out the terms of this agreement, then it’s not worth much.”

Pictured: U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

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