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Spokane civic leaders advocated for new Fairchild KC-135 tankers

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton)
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton

Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force announced it would assign 12 new KC-135 refueling tankers to Fairchild Air Force Base, bringing its fleet up to nearly 60 aircraft.

Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Todd Mielke said the community’s vision is to maximize the number of aircraft assigned to Fairchild, to reduce the chance of a possible base closure in the future.

“Our goal was to make it the largest tanker base in the western U.S. and now it’s the largest tanker base in the Air Force,” Mielke said.

He noted that around $30 million in construction will take place on the base to accommodate the new tankers and 400 additional airmen and their families. This amount means more work for our region’s general contractors.

“Our strategic importance should be based on mission, not airframe,” Mielke said. “Our mission is to be a tanker base.”

Both a few months ago and in the fall of 2016, local civic leaders flew to Washington, D.C. to meet with military officials and congressional staff members. A delegation of 50 Spokane area business and community leaders also advocated for our region during the Regional D.C. Fly-In in May.

Mielke is part of a group of business leaders within our area serving as civic leaders with the Air Force. These civic leaders, in three different groups, provide input to the Air Force and share information with citizens. The first group, which reports to Air Mobility Command, commanded by Gen. Carlton Everhart II, includes Spokane Public Facilities District CEO Kevin Twohig, and Todd Mielke. The second group reports to Air Education and Training Command (AETC), commanded by Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, includes Ignite Northwest CEO Bill Savitz as its civic leader. Former GSI CEO Rich Hadley is a civic leader in the other group for the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of the Air Force.

Earlier this year, Fairchild received another nine tankers and 50 airmen, assigned from McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.

“Because of the size we’re rising to, with regard to our capacity, it positions us well when there’s an additional upgrade of ordering more new tankers or a new model of tanker,” Mielke said. “I believe Fairchild will be very well positioned as one of the key tanker bases that will receive those aircraft.”

Fairchild is our region’s largest single site employer, with 6,000 active duty employees and 4,000 dependents attached to the base. Many military personnel return to Spokane after their service, amounting to around 18,000 veterans living in a 75-mile radius of the base.

The base has an estimated $1.4 billion annual impact to the Spokane area economy, spread throughout the region.

Spokane’s business community has a long history of supporting Fairchild, leading the effort to raise money to purchase land for the base. That land was then donated to the government to create the Spokane Air Depot in 1942, before the U.S. Air Force was formed in 1947.

Greater Spokane Incorporated advocates for Fairchild through its Forward Fairchild committee, comprised of business and military leaders throughout our community.

For more information on GSI’s advocacy efforts for Fairchild, visit GreaterSpokane.org/military.

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