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Conference Report on HR 4310, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. KEATING. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank Ranking Member SMITH and Chairman MCKEON in reaching an agreement on the proposed Air Force structure changes for FY13 in the conference report on H.R. 4310. Since the Air Force's original proposal in February, I, along with a number of my colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation, have been concerned over the future of the 102nd Air Operation Group within my district. The work of these Guardsmen at the historic Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod is critical in supporting active duty Air Force members in a joint 24/7/365 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission. The work that is completed at Otis has the direct impact of saving the lives of Americans overseas, and it is all done locally, in a cost-effective manner. Not many Guard bases have the training or infrastructure to support such concentrated day to day activities, but the men and women of Otis greatly contribute to Massachusetts' widely understood reputation as the ``brain state'' through their education and specialized training. Their work is further supported by an extensive network of communications infrastructure and technology. Otis is also a part of the larger Massachusetts Military Reservation, which employs an efficient State and Federal base model to share responsibilities, labor, and costs associated with the base among the Air Force, Air Guard, Army Guard, Coast Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security. It would have been a sad turn of events and complete waste of national resources and defense assets if this unit were to be eliminated. For this reason, I was pleased to learn that after numerous letters and meetings with both Air Force and Air National Guard officials, the Air Force came to the same conclusion in regard to the loss of these men and women. Following a careful review of its original proposal, the Air Force updated its recommendations in November and included the restoration of 141 positions within the 102nd Air Operations Group. This conference report will now bring this recommendation to life and grant not only the heroes at Otis with the job security that they deserve, but our Nation with the adequate defense that it has been promised.

I would also like to take a moment to thank the conferees for their work in regard to a small provision that will have a big impact on the descendants of the over 5,000 African-American patriots who fought for independence and freedom during the Revolutionary War. This provision will authorize the National Mall Liberty Fund to establish a memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor the service and sacrifice of these brave men and their families. Massachusetts alone was home to 31 percent of the 5,000 known African American soldiers. Only 1,174 of the 1,550 are connected by birth, enlistment, or residence to a municipality, including 60 patriots from 10 towns in Barnstable County in my district. Sandwich (17), Falmouth (12), Barnstable (9), and Harwich (6) had the highest numbers. Many more could be unaccounted for and are awaiting discovery. I am confident that through the establishment of this fully-funded memorial many more heroic tales surrounding the African-American Revolutionary War heroes honored will come to light and further contribute to our Nation's history and legacy.

Finally, the conference report includes the reauthorization of the Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) program, which is composed of the FIRE and SAFER grant programs. As the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Comittee's Oversight, Investigations and Management subcommittee I have witnessed firsthand the impact of these grants in improving the equipment and training of career, volunteer, and combination fire departments. Many fire departments throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in Fall River and New Bedford, where aging, industrial infrastructure remains particularly prone to fires, rely on these funds. Just this summer, I was able to work with my delegation to help secure a SAFER grant for Fall River Fire Department, which reinstated the jobs of 79 firefighters. A number of fire houses across the country are now waiting for a new round of funding to keep their doors open to the communities that they protect. This reauthorization is the first step in helping to do this, but I urge this body to act swiftly in setting aside the appropriate funding for the AFG program to keep the firefighters who risk their lives each day, employed and ready to assist.

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