Success! Miss. Delegation Helps Keep ‘Flying Jennies’ In Mississippi

U.S. Air Force Abandons Attempt to Deactivate 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron, Relocate C-130J Aircraft

April 14, 2015

WASHINGTON – Following more than three years of working with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Congressman Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., today celebrated an Air Force decision to abandon plans to deactivate the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, which would have transferred the squadron’s 10 C-130J transport aircraft to another state.

Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III has informed the lawmakers that the squadron and its C-130 “Flying Jennies” would remain based in South Mississippi.  The decision, submitted formally to defense committees in Congress on Tuesday, culminates a more than three-year effort by Cochran, Wicker, Palazzo, the State of Mississippi, and community leaders to retain the military assets in Mississippi after the Air Force in February 2012 proposed relocating the aircraft.

“Today’s announcement is a major win for the future stability of Keesler Air Force Base, as well as the many communities and businesses that depend on it,” said Wicker, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Subcommittee on Airland. “We successfully made the case that the transfer of the planes would not achieve the savings the Air Force seemed to suggest. This was not an easy fight, but it was one that needed to be fought. I am grateful to Secretary James and General Welsh for working with us, and for recognizing the value that Keesler provides to the Air Force and the Gulf Coast.”

“The Air Force proposal to relocate aircraft from South Mississippi never made sense from an operational or taxpayer perspective, two points that we’ve stressed from the beginning.  The reexamination and rejection of that plan is the right decision, and I look forward to additional conversations with the Air Force to ensure the manpower and mission of the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron are fully restored,” said Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense.  “I am pleased to have worked with Senator Wicker, Congressman Palazzo and others to show that Keesler Air Force Base is the correct home for the Flying Jennies.”

“Today marks a great victory for South Mississippi.  For more than three years we have demanded the Air Force provide adequate justification for moving our C-130Js.  With today’s confirmation that Keesler’s planes will stay where they belong, we can finally put this issue to bed,” said Palazzo, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

Throughout a process that included meetings, hearings, briefings and legislative actions, the Mississippi lawmakers pressed the Air Force to produce a thorough cost analysis and justification for deactivating the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron, and remove its C-130J “Flying Jennies” from Keesler.

The lawmakers successfully supported restrictions in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act that prohibited any movement of the Keesler aircraft until 60 days after the Air Force provides detailed written reports to Congress.  Additionally, the law directed the Air Force Comptroller General to send a separate report to the Air Force on cost assessment 45 days after the original reports are received.

Last July, the lawmakers also welcomed an Air Force decision to withdraw a provision in its November 2013 deactivation notice that prohibited replacing personnel for the 815th Airlift Squadron.  Dropping that provision allowed the unit to maintain its current strength at Keesler while the delegation worked to retain the squadron and the Flying Jennies in South Mississippi.