YARS Advocates Foresee Bright Future at Base

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Regardless of if a multibillion-dollar missile defense site is placed at Camp James A. Garfield, the future for Youngstown Air Reserve Station looks bright, according to the base’s advocates.

The latest House of Representatives defense appropriations bill includes funding for four C-130J aircraft – variations of the eight planes currently housed at YARS – that are to be assigned to Air Force Reserve missions.

The only two sites that could use such aircraft are the Vienna Township station and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, said Vito Abruzzino, leader of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Eastern Ohio Military Affairs Commission.

“I think we have a pretty good chance of landing those. That’s our hope. That’s our wish. That’s what we’re advocating for when we go to D.C.,” he said, at the quarterly meeting of the Youngstown Air Reserve Base Community Council Thursday. 

The chamber will host its D.C. Fly-In June 18 and 19, meeting with Ohio’s congressional delegation and other government leaders to advocate for, among other things, the missions at YARS and Camp Garfield.

That sort of advocation is the driving purpose behind the community council, said board member Dave Christner. With new leadership this year, those efforts have been improved, he said.

“Through new leadership this year, we’ve been going out to the Lions, the Rotarys, the local governments to make sure people understand,” he said. “There are still people who don’t know there’s an air base here.”

With 1,900 full- and part-time airmen and civilians at the base, YARS is the No. 1 employer in Trumbull County and has an economic impact of $108 million, Christner said.

“We need everyone in the Valley to step up. Look at what happened to General Motors. We can’t afford to have that happen here,” he continued. “We’re the No. 3 employer in the Mahoning Valley now and we need to keep all those jobs here.”

The meeting’s featured speaker, ret. Col. Joe Zeis, Gov. Mike DeWine’s senior adviser for aerospace and defense, said the air station could see upgrades coming to its runaway in the form of center line lighting, which would allow for more varieties of aircraft to use the station and broaden the scope of weather planes can land in.

“Those kinds of things are what we do. We’re looking for ways to make those things occur that increase the military value and opportunity set for the base,” Zeis said.

Youngstown Air Reserve Station is the Department of Defense’s only aerial spray mission, which covers areas affected by natural disaster such as floods and hurricanes with pesticides to prevent the spread of disease.

Earlier in the day, the governor’s adviser toured America Makes and the Youngstown Business Incubator to see how additive manufacturing can impact not just the aerial spray mission of the 910th Airlift Wing at YARS, but the armed forces as a whole. He pointed to a replacement part for a spray manifold on the Vienna base’s C-130 aircraft that was made by 3-D printers at the incubator. 

“When that piece broke, there was no vendor to resupply. Through additive manufacturing technology and partnerships with America Makes, Youngstown State, the 910th, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the University of Dayton Research Institute, they had success,” he said. “That’s the power of what we can bring to bear.”

Statewide, he continued, aerospace is one of the state’s largest industries, especially the research and development fields within the sector. Wright Patterson Air Force Base alone provides 30,000 jobs to the area near Dayton and creates an economic impact of $15.5 billion, Zeis said, which would be good for No. 35 on the Fortune 500 list if it were a company.

Among the state’s other military installations are Defense Supply Center Columbus, through which all equipment for the Department of Defense’s land and air missions comes, and the United States Coast Guard’s Ninth District Command, which oversees the force’s operations on all five Great Lakes including patrolling the water border with Canada. 

Then, there’s private industry that includes the likes of GE Aerospace, Boeing, Arconic – which has a site in Niles – and General Dynamics.

“The federal, reserve, guard and aerospace contribution to the ecosystem in Ohio is crucial to the economic future of Ohio,” Zeis told the 100-some members of the Base Community Council at the meeting. “[My office being] 10 paces from the governor’s office should tell you how important this is. Economically, it’s arguably one of the top two industries in Ohio.”

That ecosystem could be further bolstered by the placement of the proposed missile defense site at Camp Garfield in Ravenna. The $3.6 billon project could bring 800 to 1,000 jobs – jobs that would mostly be highly technical and highly paid positions – along with more than 2,000 construction jobs. 

Also being considered for the missile site are Fort Drum in New York and Fort Custer in Michigan.

“This is an opportunity to recover from something like Lordstown. That’s why it’s so important to us. Not just in terms of national security, but in jobs and the economic recovery it brings,” Zeis said. “All else equal among the three sites, that’s the driver and that’s [DeWine’s] position. That’s what he’s expressed to the senators.”

However, not much has been revealed about the status of such an undertaking. A report about the proposed project earlier this year, which was supposed to include a site recommendation, did not include a suggestion as to whether or not the site should be built.

“I don’t know that a decision has been made. There’s nothing in my intel that can confirm it’s been made,” Zeis said. “We’ll meet as a group to continue, even if one has, to influence because it’s always malleable until it’s done. We continue to advocate for Camp Garfield as the ideal site.”

Pictured: Joe Zeis, Gov. Mike DeWine’s senior adviser for aerospace and defense, was the featured speaker at the Youngstown Air Reserve Base Community Council meeting Thursday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.