The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (DM) is “a premier base,” named the first installation in the U.S. Air Force for the year 2012, yet the Tucson base is vulnerable to a number of threats, and it needs broad community support, according to Mike Grassinger, an Air Force veteran and Tucson businessman who is in his second year as president of the DM50.
DM50 is recognized as a pre-eminent community support organization for a U.S. military base.
Grassinger brought the Davis-Monthan story to the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Public Policy Committee March 6. He told more than 20 businesses and community leaders that DM is vital to the region’s economic well-being, and that their support is equally crucial to DM’s continued existence.
Three attributes make Davis-Monthan unique for the Air Force, Grassinger said.
First, it’s the weather. This base offers more flying days than any other. Second, D-M enjoys uncluttered air space. It is the only air space in the lower 48 that’s not “completely overlaid with commercial flights,” Grassinger said. Third, it’s a 15-minute flight from the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range west of Tucson. Such access draws practicing pilots from all over the country.
Within D-M’s arc, more than 6,900 military personnel and 1,600 civilian employees work at the base, supporting an estimated 19,000 dependents in greater Tucson. It is either Tucson’s second- or third-largest employer, with a payroll of $643 million and an economic impact topping $1 billion. Add in 19,000 local military retirees, who live near the base for access to services, and the impact tops $1.5 billion.
“If D-M closed, we’d go into a major recession locally,” Grassinger said.
The threats to Davis-Monthan include local opposition, from the vocal, politically savvy Tucson Forward group; federal budget cuts; the Air Force’s retirement of the A-10 aircraft; the Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) process, and inadequate local political support.
Grassinger describes Tucson Forward as “a significant irritant. They had the Pentagon convinced this was a divided community.” The DM50 works to demonstrate otherwise, traveling to Washington regularly on their own dimes to tell key leaders of Tucson’s support for D-M.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the A-10 is “on the chopping block,” later this decade. “He’s woken up the community,” Grassinger said, noting the “domino effect” on D-M if the A-10 goes away.
The DM50 is told there is no appetite in Congress for BRAC. But “things change,” Grassinger said. “Without the A-10, there is no primary mission at D-M. It makes us very vulnerable. It puts us in the crosshairs of the BRAC.”
Local support must be regional and persistent, said Grassinger, a principal at The Planning Center who volunteers his time to the DM50. The newly formed Southern Arizona Defense Alliance brings military and business support organizations into a common voice. More is needed, he said, urging people to write e-mails and letters to the editor, and talk to their friends, neighbors and elected representatives about the importance of Davis-Monthan.
Julie Katsel, representing U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, agreed on the need for vocal backing. “A wavering community makes hard decisions a little easier,” she observed.
The website is www.DM50.org.