Officials at Ellington Field are turning lemons into lemonade as they prepare for life after the 147th Fighter Wing is phased-out as part of nationwide military base closures. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, state officials now want to know what they can do the help the nearly 100 year old air base stay viable.
“It’s not just a Houston asset or a Texas asset, it’s a national asset.”
Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte is the chair of the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee and is in Houston looking for ways to provide the infrastructure resources Ellington Field needs as it moves into its next phase. Already, the future looks bright for Ellington, with the soon arrival of 1500 troops from the Army Reserve’s 75th division currently based near the Medical Center as well as several thousand Navy and Marine Corps reservists and troops from the Army National Guard and Air National Guard.
“Part of the things that the state can do is provide things like highway infrastruture to the base itself, utilities hook-ups, wastewater. Also, when you think about 6,000 new soldiers there, they don’t come alone. They come with their families and their children. So, it will have an impact on area schools, on housing, on the job market as well. We’re very excited about that increased payroll and what it’s going to mean for the Houston area. But we also know that it does bring challenges.”
Last year, the Base Realignment and Closure commission recommended the F-16 fighters stationed at Ellington be retired by 2008 and be replaced with a Predator unmanned drone program that should be operational by 2010. Despite the loss of the 147th Fighter Wing, Ellington Field Task Force director John Martinec says the base is ready to move ahead.
“We did get started about three years ago and it looked like things were going downhill. Right now, Ellington Field is blooming and will be in great shape.”
The troops from the Army Reserve’s 75th division are commanded by Major General Steve Best, who will be the commanding officer at the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base when the consolidation is complete. He says Ellington Field remains an important asset for the Houston area.
“Certainly from a presence standpoint and giving the greater Houston-area the opportunity to have those military resources they can call upon when needed. Of course, our specific missions are much wider than the Houston area, but it gives Houston that military presence that can be used if needed and if called upon by our Commander- in-Chief.”
The Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee will compile a report on its findings and present it to state lawmakers when the new legislative session begins in January.