Are we losing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base? - Tucson News Now

Are we losing Davis-Monthan? What's the future hold?

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

First and foremost, Tucson will not lose Davis-Monthan Air Force Base entirely.

But we will lose pieces of it.

Two thousand jobs will go as well as a big chunk of the $1.5 billion economic shot in the arm Tucson gets from the A-10 mission.

But also, and likely far more damaging, Tucson will lose the a sense of security A-10 has brought the city over the past 35 years.

On Oct. 26, 1978, an A-7A military jet crashed in the street a few feet from Mansfeld Middle School and a few yards from the University of Arizona.

Two sisters were killed and a half dozen people were injured.

The pilot was ejected.

It was the second multiple fatal military crash in the city in a decade. In 1967 an F-4 fell into a supermarket on Alvernon, killing four people.

These two accidents severely strained the relationship between D-M and Tucson.

In the 1978 crash, there was a prelude to the future.

While the paramedics attended the injured on the ground overhead circled a new military jet fighter: The A-10.

"The first fight is to save the A-10 because it's the right thing to do, for our country and its also beneficial to the community," says Martha McSally, the first woman to fly the A-10 in combat. 

Beneficial because, for the past 30 years, the A-10 has been instrumental in soothing tensions caused by the two crashes.

It's a dual engine plane so it's extremely safe.

And it's also extremely quiet.

However, the quiet is being compromised.

The whispers that at the A-10 mission may be ended sooner than thought have become a roar and reason for concern.

"I think we have every reason to be concerned but I'm still optimistic," says Arizona Senator John McCain. "And that's why we have to work very hard to keep DM open."

The rumors are being fueled by much high level speculation.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has asked for $5 million one time appropriation for a study and report on DM's future, suggesting the mission may end in 2015.

The head of the Air Force Air Command, General Michael Hostage, is on record as saying, "It is far worse for the nation if I have to keep the A-10 than to cut a bunch of other stuff."

McSally says publicly "the A-10 is potentially going to be cut in starting in 2015."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on record saying the entire fleet of A-10's should be retired because its 40 years old.

Congressman Ron Barber says he helped buy some time but not much.

"The Air Force cannot touch the A-10 all of 2014," he says of legislation he helped pass. "In other words, we bought a full calendar year."

So it appears, when, not if, the A-10 is retired, the F-35 will replace it and many other aircraft.

But whether it will ever calls Tucson home is still not certain.

In part because of noise.

Although there's some dispute, its said the F-35 is eight times louder than the A-10..

There are 8,000 mid town homes in the DM flight path. Many residents say they can tolerate the quieter A-10, but other jets, like the F-16 which occasionally flies over, stops conversations in mid sentence. Television viewing is impossible.

It's unimaginable, they say, what the F-35 may be like. 

So the residents organized by a group called Forward Tucson, are making some noise of their own, saying the F-35 could create mid town noise ghettos.

"As far as moving, sure my wife and I could do that very easily, says mid town resident Gary Hunter. "And if the f-35 comes to town we will move no doubt about it."

He also says "A lot of our neighbors will move also. A lot of people will move out of mid town Tucson"

But when it comes to missions stationed at DM, Tucson will not likely be able to pick and choose.

"The pentagon is looking around the country trying to decide what bases to keep open and what bases do we get rid of" says McSally. "And if one community says we'd like this mission but not this one, that creates a liability for us."

"But to me, the F-35 is the future and we're going to have to make a space for it here<" says Barber.

But that's not certain or agreed upon either.

"We are looking at other options for the use of Davis Monthan," says McCain. "In every way DM is a desirable base to have and we're also looking at other missions."

D-M'S impact is felt mountain to mountain. Its economic footprint is estimated to be $1.5 billion.

There are nearly 20,000 employees on base 2,000 for the A-10 alone.

"If Davis Monthan is ever closed, the ripple effect through this community in terms of resident population in terms of businesses that benefit directly and indirectly for doing business with Davis Monthan will be profound," says Mike Varney, President of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce.

That profound economic impact will certainly hold sway over the decision to close or not to close, whether missions may work here or not.

But the decision what comes next will not likely be made in Tucson.

"If, if, if Davis Monthan is shut down, which its not, if it was it would have a horrendous effect on the economy here" says McCain. "And I think its rather short sighted to be worried about frankly, the  sound of freedom."

We have also posted on our website, TucsonNewsNow.com. More in depth interviews and other information about the A-10 and its loss here.

For the time being, as wars wind down, and a different type of warfare is predicted for the future, things will change here. How they will change and what the impact will be, is being debated right now.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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