Defense Official Eyes ANG Base

Thomas Hall, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, and three levels below the U.S. Secretary of Defense was invited to visit Meridian by retired Congressman G.V. Sonny Montgomery.

The purpose of his trip was to tour the 186th Refueling Wing at Key Field.

"It means a great deal. He can't go to all the hundreds of bases around the country," said Montgomery.

"I'm always honored to come to the state," said Hall.

Some of the main assets of Mississippi bases that were noted by Hall, particularly the one here at Key Field, are the long runways and ample air space. Hall said both make work and training for reservists more time efficient and effective.

Assistant Secretary Hall said he can't say whether these assets will be enough to save the base during base closure talks next year.

"I'm not part of the BRAC process and don't report to them," said Hall. "What I have are representatives that provide information and data to the BRAC commission, but not from my visits. They're part of the overall process."

"His presence does not mean we're out of the woods in the BRAC process," said Col. Erik Hearon, commander of the 186th Air Refueling Wing.

Meanwhile, with about 35 percent or 150,000 guardsmen and women and reservists currently on active duty worldwide, Secretary Hall said these "civilian soldiers", as they are often called, are more prepared now than ever before.

"In the early days we were not always trained and had the right equipment, but today we are committed to having the same equipment, the same level of training, the same standards," said Hall. "So, when you see a guardsman or serviceman, you can't tell whether they're active duty or not. That's the true test of a total force."

After leaving Meridian, Secretary Hall paid a visit to Camp Shelby outside Hattiesburg.