04.01.16

Battle Creek Enquirer: Sen. Peters tours Air Guard base

One of Michigan's United States senators toured new facilities at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base Friday as officials said continued investment can preserve the future of the facility.

Senator Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, spent just over an hour at the base, looking through the command center for remotely piloted aircraft and touring the 318-acre base in a bus with Col. Bryan Teff, Commander of the 110th Attack Wing.

"This is an incredible facility and we are going to do everything we can to preserve it," Peters said after the tour.

Peters spent nearly 20 minutes in the building that will house the operations center for the MQ9 or RPA (remotely piloted aircraft), which are sometimes called drones.

"They will be flying missions all over the world and thousands of miles from Battle Creek," Peters said. "... The tip of the spear is right here in Battle Creek. This will be an incredible mission control."

The military is spending $6 million to remodel an existing supply building into the new command center for the RPA. Teff said the building should be complete this summer and pilots are expected to be using the facility by February 2017.

Teff said the base would someday like to have some of the planes based in Battle Creek but that is likely years away.

"Overall we want aircraft here but they are all engage in combat operations and there are not a lot of spares. We are looking long-range and want to have it happen in Battle Creek."

Peters also toured a portion of the new Joint Cyber Operations Team facility which was recently awarded to the guard base. He said cyber security is important as cyber attacks grow from "someone in the basement in a t-shirt" to state-sponsored, systematic and sophisticated attacks.

Peters said while the Department of Defense budget is constantly under attack and government operations face fiscal constraints, the support of the Battle Creek community and the growing importance of the base will help protect it from budget cuts.

The Air Guard employs 374 full-time workers and has 700 traditional guard members assigned and creates a economic impact of $79.5 million a year, according to the military.

"Recent investments bode well for the future but we can never take our eye off the ball," Peters said. He told reporters the base has bipartisan support from the Michigan Congressional Delegation.

"The more that is invested in Battle Creek, the more likely this will be around for a long time and will attract more investment," said Marie Briganti, president and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, who met Peters and toured the base.

"They further insulate us from cuts," she said. "Each one of the wins set up for the base to be here for a long time."

Peters said legislation to insure W.K. Kellogg Airport can compete for airport grants through the Federal Aviation Administration has passed committee and is included in the FAA reauthorization bill.

Peters said the legislation, which he sponsored, was necessary because the base no longer has a flying mission, although it does create jobs and is important to the future of the airport.

"We want to keep the airport here and receive the FAA grants to maintain runways and approaches and other facilities," he said.


By:  Trace Christenson
Source: Battle Creek Enquirer