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Opinion Pieces

Keeping Tampa a 'tanker town'

By Rep. Kathy Castor

A united Tampa Bay community recently kicked off our "MacDill Means Mobility" campaign to highlight the strengths of MacDill Air Force Base to national policymakers.

A united Tampa Bay community recently kicked off our "MacDill Means Mobility" campaign to highlight the strengths of MacDill Air Force Base to national policymakers.

The region is a patriotic community that is especially supportive of MacDill Air Force Base, home to the 6th Air Mobility Wing, Central Command and Special Operations Command. The base has a nearly $3 billion annual impact on the economy and is one of the largest employers in our community. Thousands of brave men and women in uniform and their families call MacDill their home.

MacDill's 6th Air Mobility Wing and 927th Air Refueling Wing directly support the totally integrated mission and are home to 16 KC-135 tanker planes. Air mobility and refueling are unsung heroes in national security. They extend the global reach of U.S. air power though global air refueling and airlift operations.

These Eisenhower-era KC-135 tankers are due for replacement. In fact, a new tanker fleet is the Air Force's top recapitalization priority.

The next generation of tankers will be assigned to a few bases across the country, and the Air Force is studying options now. The process is competitive, but MacDill should compete very well.

MacDill will be an attractive home for the new jets, the KC-46A, because of our strategic location in the Southeast. We serve critical Air Force missions along the eastern seaboard with a vital orientation toward the Central Command area of operation in the Middle East and toward the Western Hemisphere.

Because the base is located on a peninsula, encroachments are minimal. Clear skies in Florida consistently cooperate with flight missions.

Unlike many other bases, MacDill is poised for significant expansion and has room to grow. Hanger space, infrastructure improvements and new facilities can expand substantially without impacting current missions.

Our construction costs are low here, and as the U.S. military budget shrinks, cost savings will be an important factor. Recent investments at the base have proved to be very cost-effective.

Tampa is also home to the Air Force's top training partner, CAE USA. CAE's simulation and training center with more than 500 employees is located so close to MacDill that the Air Force should factor in cost-savings and collaboration opportunities.

Existing refueling tracks across the skies of the U.S. are important factors, but a comprehensive, modern analysis of all refueling missions and the strategic demands for Air Mobility Command are paramount.

No other community across the nation comes close when it comes to support for the personnel at MacDill. This is one of the Tampa Bay area's hallmarks. Ask anyone who has served at MacDill or the many military retirees who return to the bay area, and they will tell you we are second to none in our appreciation for their service.

The new KC-46 mission would find a strong and supportive home at MacDill.

I was very proud of community and business leaders during our recent meeting at the Pentagon. They made the case well for MacDill Means Mobility: the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the St. Petersburg chamber and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. We are bipartisan and united, and I thank Hillsborough Commissioner Al Higginbotham and members of Congress from both chambers and both sides of the aisle: U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as well as Congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Rich Nugent, Tom Rooney, Dennis Ross and Bill Young.

Tampa is a "tanker town," and we intend to keep it that way. If we are successful in this very competitive endeavor, jobs and economic opportunities at MacDill will expand for many years.

Preliminary decisions by the Air Force should come by the end of the year. MacDill Means Mobility and new KC-46A refueling jets at MacDill would solidify our region's significance in both the critical refueling mission of the Air Force and the national security of our nation.

This is a mission our community embraces.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is a Tampa Democrat.