Meridian Star

Local News

February 3, 2007

Meridian Military Team reflects on BRAC fight, celebrates success

Tom Williams breathed a sigh of relief at Key Field Thursday.

Williams, president of the Meridian Airport Authority, led the A-Team back in 2005, a sub-unit of The Meridian Military Team, headed by local businessman Lamar McDonald.

The A-Team developed strategies to try to save the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Mississippi Air National Guard from the BRAC chopping block after recommendations, announced by now former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were released on a particularly unlucky Friday the 13th in May of 2005.

Retired Mississippi Air National Guard Lt. Col. Langford Knight was part of the team as well, presenting the group’s argument at the regional BRAC hearing held in New Orleans on July 22, 2005, that the location of the 186th in Meridian was essential to the Air Force. Just two days before Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, the BRAC Commission voted to enact the 186th ARW’s realignment.

BRAC determined the 186th ARW’s nine mid-air refueling tankers would be transferred to other bases in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Maine in 2010 and 2011.

The recommendation, affecting about 175 local jobs, was endorsed by President Bush on Sept. 15, 2005, and became final 45 days later.

Thursday’s announcement of two new missions was good news for the 186th and Meridian.

“After the BRAC process there were a lot of National Guard units looking for missions,” Williams said. “The Governor and the Adjutant General have come through in a big way for Meridian with not one, but two missions and a growth in jobs at the 186th.”

Even in the days immediately following the BRAC realignment recommendation, cargo aircraft and other possible follow-on missions were being discussed.

“But frankly,” Williams added, “we did not envision the opportunity to grow employment that our leadership was able to deliver.”

From an airport perspective Williams said the realignment was going to cause the airport to lose its fire protection from the base.

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