RENO - When it comes to diffusing emergency situations and carrying massive amounts of cargo, the state of Nevada has been able to count on the C-130 Hercules aircraft for decades.
But with the Base Realignment & Closure commission set to meet Aug. 23 to determine the fate of 180 U.S. military bases - including the Reno Air National Guard's eight C-130 planes - those duties and the livelihood of the men and women operating the aircraft are in jeopardy.
The BRAC commission recommended in May that all eight C-130s at the Reno base be relocated to Little Rock, Ark., as part of a realignment of military resources. If that recommendation is approved, the only C-130 aircraft in the West would be located at Point Mugu near Oxnard, Calif.
The C-130 has been widely recognized as the top tactical transport aircraft in the U.S. military and is used in combat for paradropping and delivering cargo into hostile areas.
In particular, the 152nd Airlift Wing of C-130s at the Reno base is the only Scathe View unit in the U.S. Air Force. Scathe View provides a live TV picture and direct communication to sources on the ground. It is used in Nevada and California to help with firefighting efforts in forest areas and is more useful than helicopter surveillance because the C-130s can view from a higher altitude and have infrared capabilities, making it possible to see hot spots at night.
Besides reducing the capabilities of Western states to handle potential emergencies, the realignment would also force many longtime C-130 operations and maintenance technicians out of their jobs at the Reno base.
For Fernley resident and U.S. National Guard C-130 electrician Bruce Stowe, relocating the aircraft out of Reno would not only eliminate his full-time job, but also endanger his retirement benefits.
"I'm just kind of holding my breath right now," Stowe said. "My civil service retirement would take 13 more years to get.
"I've been an electrician for a long time now. I've chased this aircraft all around the world, and I won't chase it anymore for another job. I want to stay here, but I know I'd have to find work."
Mike Adams, who lives in Fallon and works as a full-time fuel technician for C-130s at the Reno Air National Guard base, said he would also refuse to move out of Nevada to continue his current job.
Adams said he would explore the option of working as an aircraft fuel technician at NAS Fallon if the opportunity arises, but would rather continue working for the Air National Guard in Reno.
"I hope (the C-130s) stay here," Adams said. "I've really enjoyed doing it. I was a kid in Virginia City and now I've visited places all over the world like overseas to the Middle East. I wouldn't have been able to see the world without the C-130s."
While the threat of the removal of the C-130s from Reno has longtime employees like Adams and Stowe worried, younger Guard members are also concerned that the potential realignment could delay their goals for the future.
Traditional U.S. Air National Guard First Lt. Bill Batiz, 27, said he has made the area his home after graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, and clearly does not want to leave. At the same time, he is trying to become an airline pilot, which requires a minimum of 1,000 hours of flight time to be eligible for hire. If the C-130s were removed the Reno Air National Guard base, Batiz said his goal would be much harder to attain.
"If the C-130s left, it would really have an impact on people fresh out of college," Batiz said. "It's so competitive anyway in the military that losing these hours would put me that much further behind. I've learned too much of a valuable skill to let it deteriorate."
In the past month, two of the nine members of the BRAC commission have visited the Reno base and the Hawthorne Army Depot, which was also recommended for closure. Visits from BRAC commissioners Philip Coyle and James T. Hill were greeted with optimism at both bases, but nothing will be known until Sept. 8 - when the commission will hand its final recommendation list to President Bush for his approval.
In the meantime, the Reno base will hold its collective breath and hope for the best.
"I'd hate to see it happen," said U.S. Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Don Walls. "There's a lot of camaraderie and friendship here with this group working together. I'd hate to see it end."
- Contact reporter Burke Wasson at firstname.lastname@example.org