By David B. Pittman –
A special celebration honoring Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the significant contributions it has made to Tucson and Southern Arizona for nearly nine decades will be hosted by DM50 on Monday, Nov. 10, at the Pima Air & Space Museum.
All proceeds from the event, which will be from 4 to 8 p.m. the day before Veterans’ Day, will go toward advocacy efforts aimed at keeping Davis-Monthan Air Force Base active and operating. Tickets are $50. Sponsorships also are available.
“It is important both for U.S. national security and the economic well-being of Tucson and Southern Arizona that operations at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base continue,” said DM50 President Brian Harpel. “It is one of the most diverse bases in the U.S. Air Force and carries out multiple, highly critical military functions.
“Davis-Monthan is also extremely important to the economy of Tucson and Southern Arizona,” Harpel continued. “The base is one of Tucson’s top three employers and its annual economic impact on Tucson and Southern Arizona is estimated at more than $1.4 billion.”
Another reason for the celebration honoring Davis-Monthan is that DM50 wants to demonstrate the strong support that those in Tucson and Southern Arizona have for the base and those stationed there.
“We not only want the men and women who serve at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to know how much respect we have for them and how welcome they are in Tucson,” Harpel said, “we also want our political leaders in Congress and our military leaders at the Pentagon to know of the strong community support for continued base operations here.”
DM50 and other organizations – such as the Tucson Metro Chamber, the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, Metro Pima Alliance and Tucson Association of Realtors – are concerned about the future of Davis-Monthan for two reasons.
The first is because of uncertainty surrounding the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a single-mission aircraft based at D-M that has had phenomenal success in providing close air support to ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite that exemplary war record, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has recommended replacing the A-10 with the F-35 Lightning II, a multi-purpose, stealth fighter aircraft.
The second is the likelihood that Congress will authorize a Base Realignment and Closure process. In a Feb. 24 speech, Hagel said the Defense Department will ask Congress to begin a BRAC round in 2017 that would cut billions of dollars from its infrastructure costs. The Defense Department estimates the nation has 30 percent more military bases in the United States than are needed.
A growing problem for the Department of Defense is federal budget cuts mandated by sequestration, which requires $1.2 trillion in automatic spending reductions to be split equally between defense and various domestic spending programs over the next decade. There is widespread belief among political and military leaders that unless Congress eliminates sequestration, a future round of BRAC is inevitable.
DM50 supports any flying mission that the Air Force would place at Davis Monthan. Currently the 355th Fighter Wing at Davis Monthan operates the A-10. Members of DM50 believe it is only a matter of time until the A10 is retired. For that reason, DM50 supports having F-16s or other flying missions moved to D-M because if the F16s are based at Davis-Monthan they will logically be replaced by F-35s, which the Air Force and other military branches view as the aircraft of the future.
Harpel and DM50 point to several other important reasons Davis- Monthan should remain open. D-M has:
- A proven record of efficiency as the winner of the prestigious Commander-In-Chief’s Award for Installation Excellence in 2012.
- An advantage over other bases because of its proximity to the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. The cost of flying an F-16 averages $25,000 an hour and an F-35 $35,000 an hour. The closeness of D-M to the Goldwater Range provides economic incentives to keep the base open because of increased operational flight time from Tucson than other locations.
- Airspace that is void of heavy commercial overflight.
- Incredibly great weather for flying jet aircraft.
- And the largest solar installation of any military base in the country. The $40 million solar project, which was completed last February, will save the base as much as $500,000 annually in electricity costs over the next 25 years.
Col. James P. Meger, who recently became the commander of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the 355th Fighter Wing, praised DM50 for its strong support of the base and the soldiers stationed there.
“The community in and around Tucson is absolutely phenomenal,” Meger said. “Those of us serving at Davis-Monthan are, quite honestly, the envy of those at other installations. Other wing commanders can’t believe how much support we get from the community here and from DM50, a phenomenal organization that steps up and does things for the base, our people and their families that otherwise wouldn’t be provided.”
The roots of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base go back 87 years to 1927. That was the year the City of Tucson moved its municipal airport from its original site, where the Tucson Rodeo Grounds is today, to property that is now on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
The new Tucson municipal airport was called Davis-Monthan Field in honor of Lieutenants Samuel Davis and Oscar Monthan, a pair of Tucson aviators who died in separate airplane crashes after World War I.
Following years of stalled negotiations between city officials and the U.S. War Department, the Tucson City Council authorized the purchase of the 1,280-acre site and transferred airport operations there in hopes the U.S. military would reconsider and establish an aviation branch in Tucson. That didn’t happen for another 13 years.
As a result of expanding conflict in Europe, the War Department did take over the air field in Sept. 1940. It opened an Army Air Base at the site on April 17, 1941 and the 1st Bombardment Wing Headquarters assumed command. The first base commander was Brig. Gen. Frank Lackland.