In his first extensive interview since taking over as commander of the 186th Air Refueling Wing, Col. Erik Hearon warns that the local guard unit is in the same possible danger from the base closure and realignment process as NAS Meridian.
"We could be affected. In previous base realignment and closure, the BRAC has exempted, by congressional action, national guard bases," said Hearon. "In this cycle, the national guard will not be exempted. Therefore we are very much at risk of being considered for BRAC, along with NAS and every other base in the country."
Hearon stressed what he feels is the importance of the 186th to this area.
"We provide $43 million of salary this year to the community," Hearon said. "We provide 100 percent of the fire protection at Key Field for aircraft. We provide 100 percent of the air traffic control services at Key Field."
The commander praised the local committee fighting base closure.
"The people on the committee have been extremely helpful. They're very aware of our situation. I don't think the community at large is as aware of it because we have not been part of the process before," said Hearon.
Col. Hearon said a new committee dedicated to the National Guard unit alone is not necessary.
"I think it would be best if the same group works for both bases but that's up to the group to decide. But the community needs both of us and we need the community," Hearon said.
The full interview may be seen on WTOK's program, "On the Record", Sunday at 5:30 p.m.