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Air Force decision means new mission, jobs at Key

MERIDIAN — Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, with Congressman Gregg Harper and Gov. Haley Barbour, yesterday welcomed news from the U.S. Air Force that it would immediately begin action to bring a new training mission to Key Field Air National Guard Base at Meridian.

The Air Force yesterday informed the Mississippi congressional delegation members and the governor that it would begin the process to establish a C-27J formal training unit (FTU) mission at Key Field following the successful conclusion of an environmental assessment of the plan. The environmental review of the FTU resulted in a “finding of no significant impact.”

The finding allows the Air Force to move forward to bring two additional C-27J aircraft to Meridian in the next few years, increasing to six the planned total of C-27Js to be based at Key Field. An estimated 37 full-time employees and scores of trainees annually would be associated with the FTU, bringing the total personnel associated with the C-27J platform to 142 when the mission is fully operational in 2015.

Last December, the Air Force selected Key Field as its preferred alternative site for the FTU, choosing Mississippi over five other sites considered for the tactical transport aircraft training mission. The mission involves preparing pilots, loadmasters and maintenance crews for C-27J operations.

The personnel and two additional C-27J aircraft associated with the FTU are scheduled to arrive at Key Field in the third quarter of FY2014. The Air Force expects to have the FTU fully operational a year later.  The Air Force is already moving forward with other plans to base four other C-27Js at Key Field starting in early FY2012.

The Key Field Air National Guard Station has been home to the 186th Air Refueling Wing. In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, the Department of Defense decided that by 2012, it would move the 186th Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135R aircraft to Wisconsin, Tennessee and Maine, leaving Key Field without a clear mission. This decision changes that, giving Meridian responsibility for a crucial mission well into the future.

Source: Sen. Thad Cochran

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