Senator Rob Portman stops to talk with , Col. John Knabel, Commander of the 178th Wing, Col. Rebecca O’Connor, Commander 178th Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, right, and Chief Master Sgt. Heidi Bunker as he tours the Springfield Air National Guard Base Monday. Bill Lackey/Staff

Portman: Springfield base in good position to add missions

The Air National Guard Base in Springfield has the potential to add missions in the future and is a good space in the case of a potential future base realignment process, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said during a tour of the facility Monday.

“Moving forward, this base is well-positioned,” Portman said. “There are some assets here that aren’t being fully utilized that could be used for other purposes. My job is to be helpful and try to encourage the Air Force to try to put additional missions here at this base and in the meantime, what they’re doing is absolutely essential.”

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The visit was part of Portman’s national defense tour across Ohio. The five-day tour was scheduled to cover each of Ohio’s’s military installations, visiting 13 counties and more than 1,400 miles across the state.

The base plays an important role in the local economy, supporting more than 300 full-time and 900 part-time jobs that generate as much as $59 million in payroll.

The Springfield Air National Guard base is also one of only eight active-duty bases in the U.S. that fly unmanned aircraft. Pilots in Springfield fly the MQ-1 Predator, conducting armed reconnaissance and a variety of other missions overseas.

The base was once in jeopardy after losing a mission flying F-16s and teaching F-16 pilots. But its mission operating unmanned aircraft, along with its ties to nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, are beneficial when arguing for additional missions moving forward, Portman said.

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Portman also toured Wright-Patterson Air Force Base earlier in the day.

“Both for our military and also our economy, it’s really important to have these bases here and I was really impressed with all I saw today in Springfield,” Portman said. “I expect this mission will continue to be absolutely critical and I hope to attract other missions here as well.”

The Predator drone is being phased out but the base will transition to the MQ-9 Reaper by next year.

No Base Realignment and Closure process is in the works this year, although local officials always need to be prepared, Portman said.

“The last time we did pretty well here,” Portman said. “We had a transition to make from F-16 pilots to the drone operations here, as well as the intelligence mission. But we were able to keep the people and keep most of the buildings and hangars full. And now we have the opportunity to try to procure some additional missions here, so I feel pretty good about it.”

A BRAC process could be proposed in the next couple years, he said.

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Portman also offered his condolences to the family of Jabob Drake, 21, an electronics technician 2nd class in the U.S. Navy who died in a crash off the coast of Singapore when an oil tanker slammed into the USS John McCain. He was one of 10 sailors reported missing after the accident, and his remains were recovered over the weekend.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also issued a statement Saturday night following reports the U.S. Navy recovered Drake’s body.

“Petty Officer Drake’s passing is heartbreaking news for Ohio and for our nation,” Brown said. “Connie and I join the Champaign County community in prayers of peace and comfort for Jacob’s friends and family, as we commit to honor his memory and the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country.”

Portman said the Navy is taking the right steps to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

“This was a young man who had made a decision to be out there protecting all of us,” Portman said. “It was a freak accident. On the other hand, there have been now several accidents in the last few years and I think the Navy was smart to have taken steps to stand down and review all of our procedures. Just in the last couple months, we’ve had two accidents like this. All of our prayers and our thoughts are with the family for their sacrifice and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to tell them in person how much we appreciate their son’s service and their willingness to be one of those military families that takes the brunt of this.”

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