Moving on From Initial BRAC List

By: Wade Phillips, Renee' LaSalle, and Stan Torgerson
By: Wade Phillips, Renee' LaSalle, and Stan Torgerson

Even though NAS Meridian was spared any significant hit in a list of Pentagon recommendations to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, there are some other challenges for local and state officials.

The fight to keep all the missions and jobs at Key Field's 186th Air Refueling Wing is just beginning. Leaders say the base is a vital asset to the community and the military as a whole.

Military team leaders say, from a military standpoint, the Meridian Air Refueling Wing is the best of its kind. They say the facilities and the planes are the best among the country's four refueling wings, and continuing to do it in Meridian just makes sense.

The military team will have about 45 days to make its case to the BRAC Commission. It's a job members say they will take very seriously.

Col. Erik Hearon, commander of the 186th, said there were still many unresolved questions about the unit's future.

"The only way the numbers and the proposed relocation of the tankers makes sense is for there to be a follow-up mission," said Hearon. "We're in what they are calling an enclave status, which is they have identified they want the tankers elsewhere, but they have not yet identified what mission we're going to get, and I have no idea when that identification might occur. "

Hearon said a new mission might involve a different airplane, even unmanned planes. But at this time there is no way of knowing the government's plans, if indeed, those plans have been made yet.

NAS Meridian was spared any major threat. Commander Jeff Dickman pointed out that the commission is doing its best to allocate resources where they are most needed.

"I think from the Department of Defense point of view, this is a good thing for all of us. I think we're going to consolidate a lot of things, take out a lot of infrastructure. We're going to save the taxpayers a lot of money."

Dickman said the BRAC Commission isn't just looking for a quick fix.

Gov. Haley Barbour was in Meridian Friday to praise the Meridian Military Team for its preparatory and ongoing work to save local installations.

"We're going to try to keep the mission that we have here," said Barbour. "But let me go on beyond that. We're also prepared, if need be, to look hard and appropriately at a new mission. We're going to be realistic about it just like we're going to be aggressive about it. We're going to try to make sure that Meridian cannot only celebrate NAS Meridian being here but also this Air National Guard unit remaining an important element here."


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