This week, the new Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will officially open at a ribbon cutting ceremony. Of course, military brass and other dignitaries will be in attendance. But the opening will signal a new chapter in the Miami Valley as hundreds of families move to our area. In our week long series, “The New Face of Wright-Patt”, Emily McCord takes us to the beginning of the BRAC process.
At 7:30 sharp at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the sounds of the reveille welcomes the more than 27,000 people that work at the base.
You can hear it for miles and you know what it is even if you have nothing to do with base life. But the base is an integral part in the Miami Valley and it’s growing. The 2005 Base Realignment And Closure decision brought new missions and 1,200 jobs to the base. They’re not all here yet. From the beginning of the BRAC process, the Dayton community was engaged to bring the missions and the jobs to Wright-Patt.
“The first public part of the BRAC process is the release by the Defense Department of its recommendations for base closures and realignments,” says Michael Gessel with the Dayton Development Coalition, the group that spearheaded the community’s efforts during the BRAC process, “This release had good news for Dayton and bad news for Dayton.”
The good news was that the Department of Defense’s recommendations would bring research missions from across the country and consolidate them at Wright Patterson, like the 711th Human Performance Wing. The bad news was that a group that purchases information technology was slated to go to Boston.
What happened next played out like a courtroom drama. In 2005, congress establishes a BRAC commission. They’re the jury. They look at the Defense Department’s recommendations, and take into account the broader impact of a base closure. Then they listen to the community’s case. Historically, more often than not, BRAC recommendations favor the military. So, for Dayton, it was like being in a courtroom where you’re guilty until proven innocent.
There was more bad news for Dayton. The BRAC commission also considered moving the Air Force Institute of Technology, or AFIT, away from Wright Patterson. It’s like the Air Force’s Graduate School.
“AFIT is bigger than just the number of jobs. AFIT is our gem. AFIT is our MIT,” says Gessel.
Gessel says the Dayton Development coalition went to work to protect AFIT and the IT group. They crunched their own numbers, building a case that the Defense Department’s recommendations to move these missions were not the most cost effective.
“They were not interested in emotion. They made that very very clear,” says Gessel, “they don’t care how hard you yell, how hard you scream, or how much you want this. They wanted a facts based case and we made that.”
Greene County Commissioner Marilyn Reid agrees that a successful numbers based case was made. But she says it was missing the pulse and the human emotional connection that the community has with Wright-Patt.
“You never know fully what goes into a decision and I believe that everything, whether it would be 1/8 of 1 percent, there’s always something that’s an emotional factor in everything they make,” says Reid.
Reid sat at the front row at every commission hearing, wearing her red, white and blue jacket. And when the BRAC commission came to Dayton, she helped organize a rally at Stebbins high school to welcome them.
“When the band played, when those all American songs were out there, you knew you had the midwestern values. It had all the ringings of a movie. It was beautiful,” says Reid.
Local and state politicians also angled to keep the missions at the base. Former Congressman Dave Hobson with Ohio’s 7th district felt it was job to get the community’s story to the Pentagon early enough to affect the outcome.
“One of the things that the region was able to do was to bring all the political party people, didn’t matter if you were a Democrat or a Republican. When it came to doing the right thing to maintain the economic base of this area, everyone worked together,” says Hobson.
The BRAC commission heard both of the cases from the Air Force and the Dayton community. Michael Gessel says their verdict favored Wright-Patterson.
“The Base Closures Commission finally said ‘okay, Dayton we agree with you. We don’t believe the Air Force. We’re going with you’, and they overturned that recommendation,” says Gessel.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is now stronger than it’s ever been. The base kept the information technology group, secured the Air Force Institute of Technology, and the for big win-received the new mission of the 711th human performance wing.