U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, with Congressman Gregg Harper and Governor Haley Barbour, today welcomed news from the U.S. Air Force that it will immediately begin action to bring a new training mission to Key Field Air National Guard Base at Meridian.
The Air Force on Tuesday informed the Mississippi congressional delegation members and the Governor that it will begin the process to establish a C-27J formal training unit (FTU) mission at Key Field following the successful conclusion of an environmental assessment of the plan. The environmental review of the FTU resulted in a "Finding of No Significant Impact."
The "no significant impact" finding allows the Air Force to move forward to bring two additional C-27J aircraft to Meridian in the next few years, increasing to six the planned total of C-27Js to be based at Key Field. An estimated 37 full-time employees and scores of trainees annually will be associated with the FTU, bringing the total personnel associated with the C-27J platform to 142 when the mission is fully operational in 2015.
"The completion of the environmental assessment was the last significant hurdle that had to be cleared in order to establish a strong new mission at Key Field. I am really quite pleased that this mission can now move forward unimpeded and that the Air Force can continue its good working relationship with the people of Meridian and Mississippi," Senator Cochran said.
"Today's announcement is an important step for Key Field and the C-27J Training Mission," said Senator Wicker. "The C27J and MC-12 operations reaffirm Meridian as a strategic asset. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue working to ensure Mississippi's proud military legacy continues."
"I am very excited that the U.S. Air Force has confirmed what we have known all along: Key Field has the capacity and our airmen have the expertise to stand up and execute this training mission. While details still remain to be worked out, this is a significant milestone to ensure the viability of Key Field Air Guard Station for many years to come. I welcome the 37 additional positions and the hundreds of students that will cycle through Key Field Air Guard Station to train each year," Congressman Harper said.
"I am pleased the Air Force is moving forward by adding this mission in Meridian," Governor Barbour said. "The C-27J training mission is an important one, and we in Mississippi are proud to perform it."
Maj. Gen. William L. Freeman Jr., the Adjutant General of Mississippi, added that members of the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard were excited about the new mission.
"The Mississippi National Guard is pleased that the U.S. Air Force has decided to base the C-27J flying training unit at Key Field," said Maj. Gen. Freeman. "Our Guardsmen are excited about this new mission and looking forward to continuing the legacy of aviation excellence in the city of Meridian."
Last December, the Air Force selected Key Field as its preferred alternative site for the FTU, choosing Mississippi over five other sites considered for the tactical transport aircraft training mission. The mission involves preparing pilots, loadmasters and maintenance crews for C-27J operations.
The personnel and two additional C-27J aircraft associated with the FTU are scheduled to arrive at Key Field in the third quarter of FY2014. The Air Force expects to have the FTU fully operational a year later. The Air Force is already moving forward with other plans to base four other C-27Js at Key Field starting in early FY2012.
The Key Field Air National Guard Station has been home to the 186th Air Refueling Wing. In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, the Department of Defense decided that by 2012, it would move the 186th Air Refueling Wing's KC-135R aircraft to Wisconsin, Tennessee and Maine, leaving Key Field without a clear mission. This decision changes that, giving Meridian responsibility for a crucial mission well into the future.
The C-27J is a twin turbo-prop engine aircraft that provides short take-off and landing capabilities that are best suited for the transport of cargo among intra-theater locales.