BRAC Vote Coming Soon

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In less than a month, the 186th Refueling Wing in Meridian will find out if the Base Realignment and Closure Commission will go along with a Pentagon recommendation that it be realigned.

Starting next Wednesday, BRAC will begin voting on recent proposals to close and realign military installations nationwide. One of those proposals includes moving about nine tankers from the 186th Air Guard Refueling Wing in Meridian, a gesture which would cause the base to lose about 175 jobs.

However, representatives from the local team that's been on a mission to keep the base intact say there's a good possibility that their wish could become a reality.

Last month, members of the Meridian Military Team presented a presentation to the BRAC Commission on why the 186th should not be realigned and they say things went well.

"We met with one of the commissioners individually and I know that they understand our argument," said Langford Knight, who made the presentation. "And now with some other units, we're starting to see some of our information showing up in their data."

"We're much better than any of those and that's not bragging. It's just that our people have done a good job," said team member Lamar McDonald.

The team contends that realigning the 186th would cost the country not only precious time but also money.

Local research shows that it costs about $4.3 million to train a pilot. Of the almost two dozens pilots stationed at the 186th, all average about 13 years piloting experience. Of that dozen only 11 work and/or live outside the area. The rest live or work in the area. With the likelihood that few if any of the pilots would drive to or relocate to the tankers' proposed new sites in Maine or Milwaukee, local team members say it would cost the country more money to train someone to replace one of those pilots than the country would save over 20 years by realigning the unit.

Also, combined with the fact that the Air Force is now locating more aircraft in the southeastern region, local team members say moving out tankers that will be needed to fuel the aircraft just doesn't make sense.

Although the commission is set to vote on the recent proposals next Wednesday through Saturday, the local military team and general public are not expected to find out the results until Sept. 8 when the commission discloses its recommendations to President Bush.