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Illinois Political Leaders Put Up United Front For Scott Air Force Base

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

With big defense cuts on the horizon, Illinois’ federal and state leaders are putting up a united front to protect Scott Air Force Base. 

Both U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk were part of a federal and state delegation meeting with U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh. Their meeting at Scott Air Force Base comes as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asked Congress to re-start a base closing commission – or BRAC.

During a Friday afternoon press conference, the political leaders had a united message: If Congress approves a base-closing commission, they don’t want Scott Air Force Base to be considered for closure.

“This meeting was preemptive to make sure the Air Force understands the support of Scott Air Force base in this community and to make sure we understand how the Air Force views the future of Scott Air Force Base,” Durbin said.

Added Kirk: “I’m here to make sure everybody know that there’s a strong as possible bipartisan support for the men and women of Scott Air Force. To say the military mission here is the vital mission of the country.”

Durbin says the visit was meant to show Welsh the importance of Scott Air Force Base to the military’s mission – and to the St. Louis area’s economy. It’s one of the region’s largest employers. Durbin estimated that roughly 13,000 people come to work there every day, including 4,500 civilians.

While it’s not a sure thing that Congress will approve a BRAC, Durbin said it was better to be safe than sorry. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

“I don’t argue with the premise. As you cut the budget for the Department of Defense, as you reduce the number of personnel, you’ll be reducing the numbers of facilities and installations,” Durbin said. “But let’s go at it with our eyes wide open. Let’s do it in a fashion that we can justify to future generations that it just wasn’t a vacant exercise.”

“If there’s to be another BRAC, we don’t want Scott on the list,” he added.

Welsh’s visit comes as Hagel proposed a defense budget cutting the military's size, reducing benefits for troops and scaling back military equipment spending.For the Air Force, the new budget includes an 8 percent reduction in personnel across the board which would impact Scott Air Force Base. (Click here to read an earlier St. Louis Public Radio story on that topic.)

One thing that helps Scott Air Force Base’s cause, said Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, is that impending “manpower cuts” are expected to affect the U.S. Army. That means more reliance on U.S. Air Force installations like Scott Air Force Base.

“Since the Army is going to be smaller, we need to have a more agile and more capable force – which means we have to be able to move it faster and better,” said Enyart, who is the former adjutant general for the Illinois National Guard. 

“With an Army supporting an Air Force that has more agility so the Army can more agile, Scott Air Force is in a better position, he added.”

Also on hand for Welsh’s visit was U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorsville, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern and Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.