913th Airlift Wing at NXX to disband|
The Air Force Reserve plans to deactivate the 913th Airlift Wing at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station by the fall, leaving the future of more than 1,200 personnel in doubt. Air Force Reserve Command officials told congressional leaders Wednesday that they plan to disband the tactical airlift unit by Oct. 1 as part of the 2008 defense budget. But a spokesman for the unit said he's still waiting for confirmation of the date, which could come today or Friday. If Congress approves the plan, reservists and civilians assigned to the unit would be eligible for jobs at other Air Force Reserve Command units across the country, according to the Pentagon. Some personnel already have either landed jobs or applied for positions elsewhere. The 913th delivers people, equipment and supplies to the battlefield using the C-130 Hercules cargo plane. Its fleet has eight aircraft. Word of the impending action, which came about 19 months after the federal government announced that flight operations at the base would end by 2010, left some of the 913th's reservists and civilians disappointed and critical of the way the unit has been treated. In May 2005, when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission ordered the closing of the Willow Grove base in Horsham Township, Montgomery County, it did not specifically address the Air Force Reserve wing, which has been in limbo ever since. ''We're being dumped,'' said David Grasso, a civilian with the 913th Airlift Wing. ''We're being thrown away like garbage. It's a slap in the face to the guys in the unit.'' Grasso said the mood at the base after the announcement was ''gloomy'' and tense,'' adding, ''A lot of people spoke up about how unfair this was.'' Mark Medvesky, a spokesman for the unit, said the reservists will fly missions until March. He said some of the 278 full-timers and 980 part-timers — including 100 civilians — might try to land other government jobs, get transferred to other bases or take retirement or severance packages. He stressed the importance of getting an official closing date that will give personnel ample time to be placed on a priority list for jobs elsewhere. He said a job fair at the base is planned for this weekend. ''If the Department of Defense is looking for employees, we can get priority in that system,'' Medvesky said. ''Until that date is final, we don't get priority. ''This was a business decision. It's not going to make every individual happy. I believe they're making a decent effort to make the transition as easy on people as possible. They're willing to cross-train people and willing to move people to other jobs.'' The Air Force Reserve Command said announcements of the future year's budget are typically made in February, but that notice about the 913th Wing's deactivation was made earlier to give the unit's members a better chance to find other jobs. The base is slated to lose its flight operations by 2010. Last year, then-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum touted a bid to make the base part of a regional readiness plan after military units leave. A spokesman for Gov. Ed. Rendell has said the governor supports a plan that would turn the base into a homeland security and regional emergency response center. Rendell has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Pentagon's authority to deactivate the Pennsylvania Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Wing at the base. The suit argues that only Rendell, as commander of the state's Air National Guard, can recommend deactivating the unit.