Monday, August 07, 2006

A Special Debut

A Special Debut
Travis Awaiting 'Spirit of Solano'
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

The pending arrival of the first C-17 cargo plane to Travis Air Force Base is more than just a move of multimillion-dollar machinery to a military hub in Northern California, base officials say.

The impressively nimble hauler, which can jet a 60-ton M1 Abrams tank or 100 troops to the front lines in Iraq, signals a shift toward modernization that could insulate Travis from future rounds of military base closures.

The base will receive the first of its 13 C-17s Tuesday. It will be christened "Spirit of Solano," a nod to the local community that has rallied around the base through tough times. The coming fleet of C-17s will complement the base's two squadrons of KC-10 refueling aircraft and one remaining squadron of the C-5 cargo haulers.

"That's what is really unique about Travis," said Col. Mike Shanahan, in charge of bringing the new C-17 aircraft to the base. "I hate to be clich , but it makes Travis America's first choice because we can do all three missions."

The upcoming "triple threat" of aircraft at Travis will make it singular among air mobility bases in the nation, military officials say. Neither McChord Air Force Base, Wash., nor those at Charleston, S.C., and McGuire, N.J., will be able to boast of Travis' pending versatility, say military officials.

To points around the globe, C-5 haulers originating from Travis will carry supplies to "strategic" locations. The base's KC-10s will circle the skies, refueling fighters and cargo aircraft alike. The C-17s, meanwhile, will be flown directly into battle-marred landing strips such as those at Bagram, Iraq and Kandahar, Afghanistan.

"Say the Army needs an M1 battle tank. We can carry that tank right into battle," Shanahan said. "We take the middle man out. We take Travis direct ... it makes for a more efficient operation."

Leaders around the Solano County community see the arrival of the C-17 fleet to Travis as decidedly positive. That enthusiasm is tempered, however, by the fact that the incoming C-17 "mission" doesn't expand the base by much.

Travis is phasing out one of its squadrons of C-5s - 19 of the aging, massive cargo haulers. With the influx of the new C-17 fleet during the next year, that C-5 squadron then essentially will have been replaced. An estimated 140 people could be added to the base's roster of active-duty personnel as a result of the change.

The local base currently employs about 15,000 military and civilian personnel, creating a $1.2 billion annual economic impact on the regional economy. Community leaders would like nothing more than to see Travis expand to a larger degree - and take the region's housing market and retail sales along for the ride.

"I see plenty of room for more aircraft," said Mike Ammann, president of the Solano Economic Development Corporation. "When I'm up there in the tower, I see a pretty big flight line that could be filled."

Make no mistake, things could be worse. Just last year, a round of federal base closures threatened to shutter or downsize military installations across the nation. With Travis spared from the dreaded closure list, the C-17 modernization effort breezed forward.

In addition to the new aircraft fleet, the Department of Defense allocated nearly $188 million in new C-17-related investment at the base. The improvements include a new flight simulator and a C-17 squadron operations center that will help accommodate the 700 personnel associated with flying, maintaining and loading of the planes in the new squadron.

In the middle of all this, Travis is in the process of upgrading its on-base housing and has opened up a new hotel that can host visiting brass. The base also has a new fuel pipeline on the flight line and relatively new radar equipment.

"Those are all good signs. They give you the opportunity for future growth," Ammann said.

Solano County Supervisor Mike Reagan, a former lieutenant colonel at Travis, said he also would like to see Travis built out.

He recalls the glory days when Travis had six active-duty aircraft squadrons, not the current four. The base's boosters will continue to push federal legislators for more missions at Travis, which could be essential to its long-term survival, Reagan said.

"We need two more squadrons here,' he said. 'Whatever it is, at the end of the day, we need a total of six squadrons to be made whole."

Jason Massad can be reached at

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