The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

February 26, 2014

Cooper: City, Vance partnership to gain importance

ENID, Okla. — Partnerships such as the one the city of Enid has with Vance Air Force Base will become increasingly important in coming years, city military liaison Mike Cooper told Vance Development Authority at its regular meeting Wednesday.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Pentagon’s budget will shrink by more than $75 billion over the next two years. As a result, the Air Force plans to reduce its force by up to 25,000 airmen over the next five years.

Hagel also said he would ask Congress for a Base Realignment and Closure round in 2017. Cooper told VDA it doesn’t appear Congress has the political will to approve a BRAC round at this time, but that didn’t remove the threat of military installations being shuttered.

Cooper said the military has the authority to do what is known as “warm basing,” without the public scrutiny of a BRAC round. That would mean, essentially, mothballing a base, closing it and putting a fence around it and letting it merely deteriorate, unused.

“They (the Air Force) know they are going to be smaller and they know there are going to be less dollars,” Cooper said. “That is why partnerships are so important. We just need to keep doing what we are already doing, working with the Air Force to increase mission capability and reduce costs.”

The city, state and federal government already have been in partnership with the Air Force on projects such as the improvement of Wheat Capitol Road south of the base, the joint-use hangar at Enid Woodring Regional Airport and the current project to lengthen the main runway at Woodring to 8,000 feet.

Cooper updated the VDA on the runway project, which is projected to be completed by the end of the year. The expanded runway will not only allow larger private aircraft to utilize Woodring, but would accommodate T-38s from Vance.

That especially will become important in fiscal year 2015, when the main runway at Vance will be shut down for a year or more for repair. Since T-38s will be able to use Woodring, they won’t have to fly to places like Wichita, Kan., or Oklahoma City.

“Being able to save the Air Force the fuel it would take to go somewhere else is huge,” said VDA member Michael Oaks, a former airman.

 Public-to-public and public-to-private partnerships are the focus of the Association of Defense Communities, an organization of which Cooper will become president later this year. The ADC is studying relationships such as that between the city of Monterey, Calif., and the Army’s Fort Ord. Monterey provides basic services for the base, such as police, fire, sewer, water and trash pickup, all at a savings to the Pentagon.

Cooper said discussions soon will begin here to explore ways the city could provide similar services to Vance. At present, Enid provides waste water treatment for the base.

Cooper and Enid Mayor Bill Shewey recently traveled to San Antonio to visit with Gen. Robin Rand, new commander of Air Education and Training Command.

“He gave us a nugget,” Shewey said, “that Vance is one of their best flying training bases. We didn’t have to tell him a lot about Vance. He knows a lot about Vance.”

“He was very complimentary of Enid, the base and the wing command,” Cooper said.

One issue raised by Rand was the Vance civilian work force, the ability to find qualified replacements when workers, particularly in skilled areas like aircraft maintenance, retire.

“He wanted us to make sure we always have a pipeline of quality workers,” said Cooper. “We are not having a problem, but it is something to think about.”

Cooper also updated VDA on the new control tower being built at Vance. It is scheduled for completion sometime in July or August, he said.

“Things are progressing very slowly,” he said, “but we are taking care of a huge problem that we had with our infrastructure.”

VDA members also reviewed Cooper’s role as liaison for the city, a job for which he is paid $120,000 per year. He has held the position for eight years, first on a five-year contract that was supposed to expire in 2011, but was extended for three years in 2010.

After a brief discussion, the board voted unanimously to recommend to Enid City Commission that Cooper’s contract with the city be extended another five years. That extension is subject to the commission’s approval.

VDA member Jon Blankenship, president and chief executive officer of Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, also updated the VDA on the chamber’s annual trip to Washington, D.C., which is coming up April 28 to May 1. That trip always includes a visit to the Pentagon to meet with Air Force leaders, as well as meetings with Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, during which time Vance is a prime topic of discussion.

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