Whether the F-35 comes to Tucson remains to be seen but make no mistake, Washington, D.C., the Air Force and the Department of Defense are watching. Right now, they see a community that does not support the Air Force’s mission.
Thanks to Tucson Forward, a small but vocal group, Washington’s decision-makers believe Tucson no longer values the missions of the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Tucson Forward and their allies will tell you it is simply about noise and flight patterns. Don’t believe it. They want these bases gone.
Luke Air Force Base near Glendale was recently selected as an F-35 training base. In Maricopa County, they had rallies where mayors, county supervisors, city council members and businesses showed up voicing full-throated support. At public hearings, elected officials spoke in support.
The selection of Luke AFB was a foregone conclusion yet the Air Force held public Environmental Impact Statement comment meetings related to all communities under review for this mission, including Tucson. Not one elected official from the City of Tucson showed up to express support.
Tucson Forward will tell you the F-35 is unacceptable. What should be unacceptable is the very real possibility of downsizing and loss of our valued community partners: the 162nd Fighter Wing and Davis-Monthan AFB. Given our national deficit and economic realities, you can be sure there will be future base closings and consolidations.
If Tucson lost the 162nd and D-M, the impact to our economy would be staggering. Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities has done the numbers and is glad to share them. Think about Raytheon Missile Systems’ connections to D-M and their assessments of Tucson when they are offered good opportunities in other communities.
Think of the message we continue to send: “No thanks, we don’t want you.” Is this really what Tucson has become?
A larger question is whether Tucson supports the mission of the Air Force in defense of our country? Is the noise of an airplane too much sacrifice for our civilian population? I grew up in Tucson under the flight path and ran outside to see those planes the minute I heard them. Those pilots were my heroes and they still are.
Our bases are important to Tucson for economic and cultural reasons. They are vital to our country because of the access to the Goldwater Range, weather, and flying and maintenance conditions that replicate actual fighting conditions encountered by Air Force pilots and airmen.
If one pilot’s life was saved, was it worth the noise?
The word is that neighborhood associations do not support the F-35. I wonder if there are military veterans living in those neighborhoods? Or business owners, or people who work at any business dependent on our local economy? Or parents with children who worry about how fewer jobs and lower property values will affect their schools?
Many of our most involved citizens are here because the Air Force brought them — or their parents or their grandparents — here. How do we count the value these people have added to our community?
If you think losing the 162nd Fighter Wing and Davis-Monthan is an alarmist scenario, think again. Tucson Forward is engaged in an active campaign writing letters and sending emails to Air Force and Department of Defense leaders in opposition to Operation Snowbird. This is a training mission for Air National Guard units and our international allies in our fight against terrorism.
Tucson Forward is fighting a study by the Air Force on the impact of Operation Snowbird. This traffic represented only 4.77 percent of the total traffic at Davis-Monthan over the past 10 years and 2.3 percent of traffic in 2011. Despite the facts of minimal impact, Tucson Forward sees an opportunity to sow more “bad-will” to promote their cause.
What can we do?
With support from U.S. Rep. Ron Barber’s office, community and business leaders are organizing to speak strongly in a unified voice for support of the Air Force’s mission in Southern Arizona.
We need the support and active help of employers, employees, veterans and elected officials. Visit www.tucsonf35.com and sign up. Write letters to the editor, call and email your mayor and council member, write to members of Congress. The opposition voices in Tucson are doing all this and more.
And when you hear the planes and see military personnel, give thanks that they risk their lives so that we may freely debate these issues.
Hank Peck is a native Tucsonan and chair of the Public Policy Committee of DM-50, a group of community and business leaders who support the mission of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.