Key Field Celebrates Return of Aircraft

The Key Field Air National Guard Base had a reason to celebrate after the long-awaited return of one of its aircraft.

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission took the KC-135R, among other tankers that had been there for over a decade and relocated to other bases. But men and women on base, as well as in Congress, worked together to get it back. That list includes Congressman Gregg Harper.

"What better place to have the super tankers come back to than Meridian, Mississippi?" Congressman Harper asked. "We're here to celebrate and rejoice for all the hard work that so many people have done to make this day possible."

Congressman Harper says he's been working to return the aircraft to Meridian since he first took office. Now it adds to the already-rich aerial history on the base.

They say one of the biggest benefits of the KC-135R to Meridian could be an increase in employment. The tanker made over a one billion dollar impact from 1992 to 2011 and refueled 21,000 other aircraft across the world.

"It's job security," wing commander Franklin Chalk said. The base population will be roughly 1,100 people. 400 of those are roughly full-time. Now in the future, there's no doubt. We do have the airplanes; they are here."

Those are jobs that aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

"It gives the 186 Air Wing here in Meridian a flying mission that could last up to another 20 years, and that's what it's all about," Major General Leon Collins said. "We don't want a mission that's going to be short-lived. We've got a mission that the Air Force is going to need for quite some time."

Major General Collins said in his speech that it was a day of celebration not because they had won a war, but because the base has made itself relevant for the next war.